The other night I went to my first parent conference as a parent. It was for my daughter, Olivia. She is in first grade, and while we have gone to open houses and parent nights when she was in kindergarten, this was different, this was more like school. There were appointments, examples of student work, behavior charts, and of course, a report card. This was her, my, first report card. To tell the truth, I don’t even know if she was aware of it, as far as she was concerned life and school is good. She has a good time, has friends, and seems to really enjoy the things she learns. For me, staring down at a standards based report card with about 30 lines/categories, each one having its own letter grade and behavior grade (S, 1 for instance), was a little daunting, and very emotional.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that my daughter is gifted, well, they’ll tell you I believe she is gifted, well, they’ll tell you that no matter what all I see is a bright, happy, loving, gifted child. Okay, I admit that I have blinders on when it comes to my daughter, and I also admit that after years of being principal and always finding the middle road and being the voice of compromise and consideration, I as a parent, want to be a little blinded, and at times pleasantly unreasonable. That being said, I was totally unprepared for how I would feel staring down at what another person thinks of my daughters academic abilities. While I wanted to be unreasonable, and cry out, “Hey, she is most certainly not satisfactory in math”, I refrained myself, well a little. I did mention it. After all looking down at all of those “S’s” I wondered if anyone thought she was excellent at anything. I know I did, and I enjoyed working on her homework with her, especially math. And from my teacher/parent eyes, blinders and all, I thought she was an “E, 1” in math (and other things of course). I was also a bit bummed that there was no grade for music or art (which my daughter loves, loves, loves), only for the traditional academic classes. So while I was able to ask a couple of probing questions I found myself in unfamiliar territory; I was at a loss for educational words. All I wanted to do was leave and go be with my daughter.
Please understand that intellectually I know her report card was fine, and that she is making progress on an appropriate developmental scale and cognitively I am sure she will be just fine. However, emotionally I was unprepared to deal with the judging of my first grader through someone else’s eyes, so much so that I couldn’t even ask all the questions I knew I should ask, such as; how she was being taught and assessed, what did the formative assessments say about her learning, did she have any behaviors that came into play, and of course, what are we going to do to ensure her success. You also have to understand that I am not a big fan of conventional grading, and if while this report card in many ways was progressive (using standards) it also used very conventional labels.
Overall it was a good conference and I really like and trust her teachers. There was a genuine sense of caring and understanding that emanated from them and I know that is important to my daughter too. I think next time I will be better prepared emotionally, and perhaps even take a few note cards to keep me focused. Grades can be good tools if they are used as benchmarks and jumping off points, but all too often they are limiting and used to put a period when a comma would be best. We’ll see how the year, my daughter, her teacher, and more importantly my emotional stability progresses.