Reading Between The Lines Of A Bad Report Card

by Bill Brenner on November 10, 2011

My mother found my fourth-grade report card the other day and mailed it to me. On the surface it shows a chronic C student who doesn’t give a damn about anything.

But when I read between the lines I can see exactly where my 10-year-old head was at.

If you look at it on the surface, you see a straight-C student who occasionally sinks to a D in social studies and math. On the back of the report card are comments each quarter from my teacher, describing me as a kid who puts no effort into anything.

My first thought on reading it was that this teacher didn’t like me, and that the feeling was mutual. In reality, I don’t think she disliked me. I think she saw a kid adrift and was trying to scare my parents into a more rigorous study routine at home.

Unfortunately for her and me, she wasn’t the type of teacher who was going to get through to me. She took the academics very seriously, but did little to appeal to the more creative side of me. Teachers before and after her would have a lot more success in that regard. She didn’t get me and I didn’t get her. A troubled kid needs nurturing personalities to intervene.

Even as an adult who has enjoyed a fair amount of career success it’s the same:The more nurturing bosses get more out of me. The ones who shove a 13-point plan in my face and tell me to do it get nothing but trouble. Luckily for me, I’ve only had a couple bosses like that along the way.

I have been both types of boss myself, and I’ve found that most people do better with supervisors who are nurturing souls.

In the 1980-81 school year at Theodore Roosevelt School in the Point of Pines, Revere, Mass., I needed a lot of nurturing.

My parents divorced in the summer of 1980 and it was not a civilized, amicable process. The yelling and instability sent me on to such soothing pursuits as lighting things on fire and shoving the garden hose into an air vent on the side of the house.

I was also sick most of the time with Crohn’s Disease. If you look at my attendance record, there’s a 20-plus day absence in the fourth quarter. That was for one of my extended hospital stays. I missed the class picture shoot that spring, which is probably for the best. I wasn’t a pleasant site.

 

Erin was pained to look at my report card. She never got grades so consistently bad. She felt sympathy for the teacher, who was obviously trying to get my parents’ attention. But in the raw wake of divorce and the illnesses me and my older brother suffered from, they obviously were distracted. I don’t blame them.

I suppose I should have felt sad looking at the report card, but I don’t. I see it for what it was — a snapshot of a difficult period of time. I survived it, and turned into an excellent student once I had a couple years of college under my belt. I would argue that despite it all, I turned out just fine.

What makes me even happier is that at least to date, my children do well academically. Duncan has some ADHD-related challenges, but his grades are mostly good and he has a heart I didn’t have at that age. That heart will take him far.

Sean is currently the same age I was when I brought home that report card. He’s razor-sharp academically, though like me at that age, he often rushes through his homework, the most notable evidence being his sloppy penmanship. We can work with that.

I’d like to think that their better academic luck reflects that we’re giving them a good home life — better than mine was, at least.

To me, the big lesson is that when a kid brings home a bad report card, it’s not enough to just look at the grades and brand the student a success or failure based on the letters and numbers alone.

There’s always a story behind the grades, and taking the time to know the story is key to helping that child going forward.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura Coy November 10, 2011 at 11:03 am

Hey, Bill. You are absolutely correct in your statement that this report card was just a “snapshot of a difficult time”….after I left Revere, I lived with several different family members, and finally foster care. I completely failed high school, and was actually expelled from Everett HS for my one and only fight there. I was sent to an alternative high school that the only real requirement was attendance….you passed as long as you were there…my grades were really “iffy” there as well. I received my High School diploma from Medford HS….a school I only stepped foot in once for senior pictures. On my graduation day, I was not present, because I was giving birth to my older daughter (I passed 4 years of gym requirements by doing prenatal exercise videos). I received my diploma in the mail. I never went to college, but I did test for it and my test scores were “college level”….I would of been accepted into college, but my life still did not have room for education. I finally went to nursing school (LPN program) after my kids were mostly grown up…my oldest was 20, and my younger daughter 16. I graduated valedictorian. I applied to Rivier College, and was all set to go there in the fall…that summer I became ill, and I never made it there. I never worked as a nurse. Life does what it does. We can’t be measured by numbers, achievements are fleeting, and destiny is not always something we can control. We can work hard all our lives to “undo” the past, but the past is just that….past. It is gone, and need not creep into our present, nor our future. A report card cannot define you if you don’t let it. Yes, our society functions on test scores, and GPAs, but we don’t have to.
Laura

Mary November 12, 2011 at 2:54 am

Hi Bill,
As a parent and person, I’m all about the comments. “Scores” messure…but what is school messuring?
When I saw the comments I was like Erin: Sad. (As a mother, I would never have sent this to my adult child.)
I like the message for the summer: read. And that my friend you did, and now your world is different!

Zac December 21, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Glad I found this link. I, too, grew up in the Point of Pines and had a hard time adjusting while attending the Theodore Roosevelt Grammar School that is long gone from there, in the late ’60s and early 1970s. What caught my attention is that I was also dealing with something similar that I never knew about, i.e. a gastrointestinal tract condition involving recurring abdominal adhesions and symptoms that would eventually lead to the diagnosed diverticulosis that I experience today, as well. In those days, a student’s personality and challenges as a whole–the invisible as well as the visible, the non-academic in addition to the academic–weren’t factored in as much as to why the student was maybe not excelling as much in one area as another.

Your last line in the article sums up the more appropriate attitude well. Now we live in a world where there are more multilayered and “diverse” diversities, seen and unseen, for which individuals and their guardians need to stand up for themselves, to demand that they be fairly permitted to play, and succeed, on an equal playing field with all their academic peers.

Damn, looks like the 1980 report card format hadn’t changed much since the one they were still using in 1971!

billbrenner1970 December 22, 2011 at 2:21 am

Pleased to meet you, Zac! It’s rare I make contact with someone who was at the Roosevelt in the late 60s-early 70s. If you’re on Facebook, we should connect.

eliasandrino March 9, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Another great post!

In elementary school, my grades were chronically average to bad. Teachers were always cross with me for zoning out and felt I wasnt living up to my potential– and they were right!!

But, I was bored, & lesson material was presented with about as much interest as the ingredients on the back of a cereal box. And really, they had no idea how to get anything out of me…Catholic school is a terrible place for a creative child. But it may not just be Catholic schools, our school system is dumbing our kids down. I felt smarter at 5 than at 15. Must have been the hormones! School kills interest in many fascinating and worthy subjects, and how many children never discover how great learning can be as adults? Too many, I’m afraid…

As Iggy Pop said, “If there was a class entitled: ‘What’s that outside the window?’ I would have been an A student.'” hahaha…

Myles April 28, 2012 at 11:51 am

Don’t take it personal Billy Ms. Longo wasn’t the most pleasant teacher. I don’t think she liked most of us from that year.

diane July 4, 2012 at 1:35 pm

To this day i commend my mom on taking me for ice cream sundays if my grade was below a c.. xo mom two loves u. And your ability to help ithers .

diane July 4, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Sundaes…guess grammar was the one to work on..ugh

Edward May 30, 2013 at 10:10 am

hey Bill, any chance you have any pics of the Theodore Roosevelt School? Seems they’re hard to come by…..

Bill Brenner May 30, 2013 at 10:19 am

I wish. Someone somewhere must have them. All I have are inside shots for class photos, which doesn’t reveal much.

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