Report Card Blues

It’s that time of year again: (cue the ominous music) report card time.

An enormous amount of time and energy is expended on report cards each term. The reality is, we know parents spend a much shorter time reading them than we spend writing them. And unfortunately, report cards are the cause of much anxiety for students, parents and teachers.

Now rationally, I know why we have report cards: the need to communicate the progress of our students and the need for teachers to be accountable for what they are teaching.

As a teacher, I tried to find the balance of communicating what I felt needed to be communicated to parents without running myself into the ground. I tried to work smarter not harder by planning ahead and working on report cards throughout the term. I tried to strike the balance of doing my due diligence and not adding unreasonable, excessive time to my work week.

I wasn’t always successful. By the time they were finished, I was usually exhausted and ready for a celebratory dance. Better yet, a drink.

Bottom line, they need to be done. The question then, how can we complete them without running the risk of living the report card blues each and every term? Some options:

  1. Let each child complete their own report cards: kids and teachers would be much happier!
  2. Find a child from last year resembling each student from this year. Voila! Report cards complete.
  3. Divide a dart board into four sections: insufficient, basic, proficient, excellent. Complete one report card each recess.
  4. Invite guests over on the pretence of a dinner party: under each dinner plate, 5 or 6 report cards to write. You can always add the names in afterwards…

All kidding aside, report cards are a given in this profession. This coming term, consider how you might work to avoid the report card blues while still honouring your professional responsibility AND maintaining your sanity.

 

Inspiration

Motivated. Inspired. Empowered. That is how I will arrive at school tomorrow. Why? I was lucky enough to attend a conference where I heard speakers like Sir Ken Robinson, Jon Scieszka and David Shannon, among others. More importantly though I was surrounded by individuals who are excited about education and literacy!

We are all aware of the challenges that face us daily in the field of education. Those challenges can be debilitating and onerous if we lose sight of our ultimate goal. After speaking to some American colleagues, I feel fortunate, extremely fortunate actually, to be a teacher in Canada. Did you know that teacher pay in the United States is going to be tied to student achievement? Did you know that if students do not meet a pre-established standard, they will be held back in that grade level regardless of whether or not the teacher determines it to be in the student’s best interest? Talk about taking steps in the wrong direction.

Sir Ken Robinson’s words seem directly at odds with the policies being implemented in the United States. He spoke about how critical inspiration and passion are to the process of learning: the very things American educators believe will be compromised if the pressure of standardized testing continues to mount.

As teachers we have the incredible opportunity to provide motivation and inspiration to our students. We have the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from the educators that surround us. We have the opportunity to create ripples and waves in this shifting field of education. Those of us in Canada, unlike many of our American counterparts, feel confident and willing to make decisions that lead to greater student engagement, creative and critical thinking without the worry of a stringent focus on standards, standards and more standards.

Our system of education, though not perfect, really ain’t so bad…

 

A Celebration!

Last week a teacher shared a story about a little one who is struggling to identify letters and their sounds. As his classmates make gains and show daily improvement, his progress is inconsistent and slow. When he was able to spell a word phonetically – a giant step forward – the teacher told him she was going to call on him to share it with the class. Though he was reluctant, the teacher scaffolded each letter of his response and eagerly encouraged him to answer. The students waited with quiet anticipation and when he answered correctly they all cheered “great job!”

This moment, though seemingly small, will have significant impact on this child. The teacher’s words, support and positive attitude all contributed to the creation of this moment. She could have simply acknowledged the word on his page and moved on with the lesson. Or, she may have even overlooked the significance of what he was able to do. Instead, she turned that simple word into a celebration.

Will he remember this specific moment? Perhaps not. But he will remember how he felt in his grade one classroom.

Think back to the teachers you admired most when you were young. Chances are they were the ones that recognized success, however small. Chances are, they were the ones that respected the dignity of the students, all students.

Did your favourite teacher call a student’s name across the class to discipline him? Probably not. More likely, she went up to that student and privately spoke to him about the concern. Did your favourite teacher interrupt the students as they shared their ideas? Likely not. He probably attempted to hear all points of view and still find a way to respect the time. Did your favourite teacher talk negatively about her students to others? Unlikely. She saw potential in every student in her class.

Our little grade one student experienced a few moments of pride that will propel him forward with confidence in the days to come – all because of the choices of his teacher.

 

A Romp in the Snow

Have you ever walked a dog who loves the snow? One who bounds happily through the undisturbed blanket, ears flopping, tail wagging? The trail he takes is winding, much longer than necessary, meandering from this tree to that. To the dog, the walk is certainly about the journey and not the destination.

Kids, too. Go for a walk with a five year old… go at her pace… follow her path. The trail will be winding and unpredictable and there will certainly be treasures found along the way. She cares little about where she is going.

As adults, our days are typically tightly scheduled, predetermined, so full of things that must be done. Do we take the time to let our noses, our eyes or our emotions lead us? Whether it be a few minutes in the staffroom, a walk in that fresh fallen snow, or an unexpected visit with an elderly parent, we might be surprised to discover the treasures we find along the way.

And yes, it’s good to begin with the end in mind. But sometimes, it’s also nice to enjoy the journey. Ears flopping and tail wagging.