Why report writing stresses teachers out.

We’ve all seen those funny things that teachers post about writing school reports.
Some of them suggest things we’d love to write, but we know we never could… no matter how tempted we might be.

Others are translations of teachers’ comments commonly found in school reports. Here’s an example:

“Murgatroyd is highly social and engages well with his classmates.”
In other words, Murgatroyd doesn’t shut up and distracts the entire class from what they are supposed to be doing.

“Murgatroyd demonstrates strong interest in science, and is very creative in his use of hypothesis and experiment.”  That is, Murgatroyd isn’t scared of bugs or creepy-crawlies, and was brave enough to put a snake in Prissy’s school bag and a venomous spider in the teacher’s desk drawer. He figured they would be upset, but he did it just to see what would happen.

Okay, so we can laugh at those examples.

However, it is really hard to balance the need for both honesty and diplomacy when writing school reports. It’s important to let parents know what their little treasures are doing at school and how they are progressing.   It’s important for our students to know what they are doing right, and how they can further improve their learning.

It’s also really important for parents to understand that writing reports is not an easy job. It adds pressure  because we are so keen to get it right. It adds stress because we are working to an extra deadline while we’re still teaching classes, grading exams, doing yard duty, marking students’ work, and attending meetings.  We go home to our homes and families, where all the regular things parents and spouses do needs to keep happening.  It often means late nights of unpaid overtime, looking at a computer screen until our eyeballs threaten to bleed or we get nauseous because we’re sleep deprived, not eating properly, and surviving on caffeine and sheer determination.

When kids are well-behaved, attentive, cooperative and soak up information like a sponge, their reports are quite easy to write.  The biggest danger is falling into the trap of making things sound like the kid has it made and just has to show up to get those As. It’s easy to praise, encourage and motivate those students.

Don’t let that fool you into assuming that every kid in every class is like that. It’s simply not true.

Writing a report for a student that hates your subject, or one  who doesn’t want to behave, or one who is determined to see just how many times they can be told off, sent out, given detention or how quickly they can make the teacher cry… that is a really hard job. Especially when schools all have guidelines and rules for writing reports that prevent teachers from telling it like it really is.

Sometimes you want to tell parents that their kid is a law unto themselves, and that they won’t take correction or discipline without a fight. Sometimes you want to tell parents that even though their child behaves like an angel, her self-righteousness and conceit make her really hard to have around… especially when she insists on telling the teachers how they should be doing their job, or on trying to do their job for them.  Sometimes you want to tell parents that their child has given them the term, semester or year from  hell, and that both you and the student in question are lucky to have made it through alive.  Sometimes you wish you could let parents know, just in case they haven’t realised, that their child is among the laziest human beings on the planet and he’s not going to make it into rocket science with his attitude and work ethic. 

Having to be diplomatic about those things is a really tough gig.  And there is at least one kid like that in every class.

Parents, for the love of everything educational, if there are things in your child’s report that you don’t like reading… please consider that perhaps your little treasure may not be quite as well-behaved and super-intelligent as you believe.  Please consider that the teacher isn’t making it up, singling out your child, or blaming a student for their own lack of ability or patience.  Please consider that maybe the teacher is saying something you need to know and understand about your child.  Understanding that might make a bigger difference in your parenting and in your child’s life than detentions, notes, consequences and meetings with teachers ever will.

And if you are lucky enough to have a child who brings home reports that glow with praise and encouragement, be very, very thankful.  You can bet their teachers are.

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