It is good to have something to get you out of bed in the morning, even if it be something as unappealing as filling out twenty-two 4th grade report cards.
Let’s face it. No teacher loves this. Like practicing scales for the pianist or running laps for the athlete, it’s just part of the territory. But once into it, it feels mightily important. At its best, a chance to visit each child again in memory and imagination, spend time with them, think about how they’re doing and how you can help them. At its worst, it’s a slap in the face of your own organization as a teacher as you come to a name and think, “I have no idea how this kid is doing!”
This is especially true of the music specialist, spread out amongst many grades and many kids and in the Orff class at least, much less paperwork to lean on and much more a celebratory participatory style with the group energy at the center. If a kid is neither brazenly in your face or obviously hiding in the corner, you think they’re doing just fine, but do you really know? So if you’re on top of things, you take some time before the report card deadline to go through the names one by one and make sure you observe more closely during class or do a simple exercise easily accessible with a pen in hand—like each leading an echo clap around the circle or improvising on the xylophone. The trick here is that you don’t want kids to self-consciously be aware that you’re judging them, so you have to have a good memory —write it down after class—or be sneaky.
But these days, a hidden little camera can work wonders. I don’t do this, but I do look at the video taken of the recent Spring Concert and that speaks volumes. There you get to see who was really faking it, who was faking it with style, who actually did a lot better than you thought. It’s a bit of work. Watching a piece some 21 times to make sure you’re noticing each child, but it’s a pretty accurate assessment.
I have big problems with report cards as we’ve mostly known it, a severe judgment designed to label, sort, create winners and losers. But if we keep our eye on the real purpose, to assess where the child needs help and how both the child and we as teachers can help, to celebrate the things they do well, to offer some possible next steps to keep growing, then the whole enterprise feels useful and necessary and not just some busy-work item on the list for a teacher to check off.
In elementary school, we have a three number system. 1) Needs significant support 2) Needs some support 3) Meets or exceeds expectations. Then comments to state specifically the moments of competence, of outstanding competences, of challenge.
Any veteran teacher can see what I’m doing here writing this blog. Procrastinating!!!! So in terms of my own competence in filling out report cards, feel free to give me a grade as follow:
1) Needs significant support. (Someone to make me sit down and do it or promising myself ice cream or a movie afterwards.)
2) Needs some support. (Okay, two solitaire games and then 5 report cards. Half hour playing piano, then five more. Etc.)
3) Meets or exceeds expectations. (Signing off now to say “Jessica has a wonderful semester in music class…")