Magazine Feature

It’s Report Card Time—And I Despise It

A teacher reminds her students that they are not defined by their grades.
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Illustration by Jess Wilson

To My Students,

It’s report card time—and I despise it. Yes, I know I’m probably not supposed to say this, but it’s true and I need to tell you why.

I will spend hours sitting in front of the computer screen choosing just the right 250 characters to type in the comment box for each subject. First, I type a blurb about the general concepts we’ve focused on, then perhaps a comment specific to your abilities.

I will undoubtedly spend more time trying to shorten my well-chosen words because I don’t have enough space to write all I need to say. I will agonize over whether you are a 1, 2, 3, or 4 in achievement and have exhibited superior, consistent, inconsistent or minimal effort.

But let’s get real. Never, not ever, can you be reduced in my mind to a number and a letter; not in math, ELA, social studies, science or more importantly—MOST importantly—as a human being.

Nevertheless, it is a job requirement to evaluate your academic performance, so I do what is required. And I know you think it matters because I watch you count how many 3s and Ss and Cs you got. I watch your face light up proudly, and I watch you cry. I listen when you tell me you are nervous to go home with this document because you don’t want to get in trouble.

So here’s what I’d put on your report card if it were up to me.

I would tell you that YOU MATTER simply because you are a member of our class family. You are a genius at something and the world needs to know what that is. Maybe you need to know and you don’t yet ... and that’s OK. You have a lot of time to figure it out. You may change your mind often.

I care about you: your hopes, your fears, what makes you deliriously happy and raving mad.

I care about whether you have access to books that will take you places you’ve only imagined—or never imagined! If you read as much as possible, maybe you’ll want to be a writer, too.

I care about what you have to say and every story you want to share, even if I sometimes tell you I can’t listen at the moment you need to tell it. It’s never because I don’t care.

I care whether you believe in yourself as much as I believe in you. Do you believe you can do anything, be anyone you want to be? You can. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Especially, don’t let this report card tell you different. You are so much more than a bunch of numbers and letters on a piece of paper.

The paper does not tell me what is in your heart. I see that every day, and it is such a privilege. I love when you come in each morning ready to learn, and I love when you ask questions or for extra help because that means you care. I love the small acts of kindness you perform, not because you’ll get something in return, but because you are a caring person.

Nothing I write on your report card will let you know these things. Two-hundred and fifty characters is simply not enough.

Your Teacher,
Ms. Ames



Ames is a veteran fourth-grade teacher in Dennis, Massachusetts.

This post was originally published on the International Literacy Association’s Literacy Daily blog.



Toolkit for "It’s Report Card Time—and I Despise It"

This teacher dreads reducing her students to a few words on a progress report and would rather let them know how much she cares. What would you rather tell your students?

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