Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Report Cards - foe or goal setter?

It is report card time in my town.  Children today have no delay or diversionary tactics since I get an email and log on to see them.  There is no "misplacing" it until after a party, say if you were less than stellar, no "imitation is the best form of flattery" through signing of one's parents name on a report card or test.  There is the email and I log on.  I did "delay" the presentation of a report card a few times in my life but I was afraid of the consequences of trying to sign my parents name to one.  

I grew up in a house where my mother pushed for good grades but was fairly reasonable about it and my father demanded them.  He meant excellent grades - like a B was cause for yelling and seeing it as a failure to myself, to him, to the reason they moved for a better life in the US (I am sure world hunger and lack of world peace were probably tied to my grade but at some point I tuned out).  My father parented with the approach that the good grades were not to be praised (ironically I have learned that he praised my grades and accomplishments to others), as that was the expectation.  I have gotten over all of this.  He really thought that kind of negative push would get me to work harder, that my getting good grades and going on to higher education would better my lot in life.  I do not do well with that kind of measure but some kids might - though do not believe any child would think that is a good way to motivate.  I thank my father for this because I know how not to approach report cards or tests. I did get a good education and have a great work ethic from both of them, so method may have been flawed but outcome was good. 

It is hard because you know what your child can do and if their report card does not reflect it there may be a sense of frustration.  My boys get good report cards, the grading system is different than what I grew up with, and there are times when I think they could do better.  I have a good friend who recently shared an example of her son's letter asking for a puppy, she saw herself in his organization and tenacity.  Our kids are a reflection of us and much like a mirror the view looks similar but it is just a reflection not the real person.  As I look at the report cards I want to instill a sense of pride in my boys, a sense of high expectations without recrimination and most of all a sense of accomplishment.  

I look at report cards when they are not around because their expectant looks and my ability to review and keep a poker face is a hard task.  I wonder where I could help them drive to do better if a grade seems a little lower to me and where I think the teacher may be a tougher grader to balance with the wonder of how much they are learning and excelling at.  I ponder how to tell them all of this.  The discussion always starts with "how do you think you did? did you do your best?"  - amazing how this helps.  They are quite honest about where they identify that they can do better - my older son has fine motor issues and writing is not his forte.  It is where he struggles to get the wonderful thoughts and imaginative storytelling from word to written. He wants to walk away because it is physically hard.  I congratulate him on knowing all of this and working through it more often than not.  I set the expectation that he will continue to work on this and  ask for help. My younger son seems to have some trouble with following directions - his defense is that "I got it Mom but then she(the teacher) took forever to actually give us the work so I started on something else".  We work on his patience and understanding and then he promises to try and remember that it's not on his schedule that the world needs to revolve around.  

I use report cards as a motivational tool rather than a warning stick. We literally go line by line and talk about improvements or how we could work together to improve. My sons actually run home to do this and like the method.  They should have high standards for themselves which they get excited to meet and exceed.  I want them to take pride in working hard toward a goal and being disappointed at not achieving it.  Yes I said disappointed but not dispirited - taking from that what they can do better while learning to understand that their actions do have outcomes.  It is not easy but what in parenting is, well besides the unconditional love and loads of smooches and hugs? 

So parent portal up and as usual my first look gives me pride - because I know my boys are trying their best.  I am proud of the people they are and the care they take to make and meet their goals in school.  Their report card is but one measure and not making it the central focus somehow seems to be paying off for us.  Oh I will end with yes I do .. yes I do give rewards, reasonable ones, for the report cards and for the successes we can track together on there.

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