Report Card Blues? Remember what’s really important

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This story originally appeared in the Toronto Star, on June 27, 2012:

This week, more than 2 million public school students receive their final report cards in Ontario. That means an awful lot of parents are anxiously waiting to see if they’ll be celebrating their child’s academic prowess or wondering if they can ground a kid for the whole summer.

As the mother of two teenagers, I fear my own blood pressure will rise when I see their report cards. But there is another way to react.

While a report card measures the success of the school year, it’s a limited tool to gauge overall success. A better question for parents to ask themselves: “Did my child contribute to the human race this year?” I don’t mean contribute in a “create your own charity” kind of way, but rather did she help or hinder her fellow beings? And Junior may not have earned the A he was clearly capable of attaining in English, but he insisted on carting home his elderly neighbour’s groceries on the hottest day of the year. That means he’s thinking beyond himself and that’s a good thing.

So when the report cards arrive I plan to celebrate the wonderful humans my kids are becoming. The teen years are challenging and I don’t coddle, so I don’t promise that lightly. It’s easy to become disengaged in high school when snarls replace smiles, so positive contributions need to be recognized.

It’s also easy to get hung up on marks (or lack thereof), but it’s also pointless. Over the years the reaction to report cards at our house has swung from, “This is brilliant!” to “This is the best you could do?” Neither the hyperbole nor the cynicism is accurate.

Our goal, as parents, is to turn out decent human beings who — we hope — are able to move out of the house. Their goal, as kids, is to be happy at whatever they choose to do.

When my husband bemoans that our son will be a ditch digger, I say, “great!” That will save us a pile of cash, he’ll be in the great outdoors, and in awesome shape. By the time he realizes he might want to switch careers, he’ll have to pay for it. That’s called a win-win. It’s also a ridiculous concern since our son’s academic average is fine. Eventually he’ll realize that achieving his goals is up to him and that if he wants to get accepted to the school of his choice, he’ll have to work harder. There are no worries with our daughter —yet.

In the meantime, come the arrival of the report card, I’ll remember how proud I was when an elderly woman stopped me on the street to say that my son carried her to her front porch after she fell and administered first aid. A big football player, she was surprised by his gentleness and concern.

That gets an A in my book.

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