Education: Report card comments – the ink never fades

Published: February 21, 2013

AMRITA SAHOTA
VANCOUVER DESI

It’s that time of year for teachers: a time known as Term 2, when students receive a summative assessment of their learning.

Around this time, I like to read through my old report cards from elementary school.  The vintage report card has changed over the years.  The ones I got when I was growing up were crispy and type-written pages, folded into a book.  And on the faded blue cover, an image of a boy looking through a projector.  The “old book” smell is still there and it sends me back to childhood, to a time when I once felt anxious tingles in my stomach while waiting for my parents to read what my teacher had to say about me.

The other night I had a realization when I re-read my own Kindergarten teacher’s comments.  Mrs.  “K” was a lovely first year teacher.  She always wore high heels and flowing dresses to school.  I admired her.  In my very first report card, she wrote the following, “Your child is outgoing and friendly, but her attention span is short and she is easily distracted.”  

So, Mrs.  “K” thought that I was distracted — no big deal.  Most kids get distracted; that’s what they do.  As teachers we look for patterns and themes.  So naturally, I skipped her “filler” sentences, and dove right into the Term 2 comments.  Where I knew I’d find the goods.  And there it was, a cleverly crafted, telling sentence. “Your child’s attention span must be lengthened if she plans to experience success.” 

Great!  Now, Mrs. “K” is essentially saying the exact same thing, but she’s rewording it!  Instead of focusing on what was not enough, she was telling my parents what needed to happen.  Obviously, she was on to something! 

Reading my old report cards gives me perspective, putting me in the shoes of my own students, so that I can empathize with them while I’m writing their comments.  It also helps me remember that ink does not fade.  My teacher’s comments were permanent and mine will be, too.  So I need to think about what I’m going to say and how I’m going to word it.

I believe it’s about striking a balance between describing a student’s abilities and revealing his/her potential.  We know the seeds are planted, it just takes time and nourishment for the fruit to grow.  Report-card writing can be repetitive and, on hectic days, stressful, but stress should never translate onto the lines of any comment box.  Especially, with today’s technology, where ink can potentially last for a hundred years!

A teacher’s words have staying power, in the brain and on the page.

Amrita Sahota is an elementary school teacher.  She has worked extensively within the field of Child and Youth Care.  Currently, Amrita is working as a Teacher on Call.  She enjoys creative writing, and writing teaching stories and strategies, that she shares with other teachers on her teaching blog.  She can be emailed at sahota_a1@hotmail.com

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