Three times a year — in the fall, in the spring, and at the end of the school year — a large, sealed manila envelope comes home in each of my kids’ backpacks: report cards.
It is the only time I remember to look through their backpack. In fact, I rip that sucker open as fast as I can, ignoring the paper cuts I get in the process. I skim the first two pages, tossing them aside until I get to the information I want.
On the back page, there is a comment section where the teacher provides a personal assessment of the child. This is the information I want. I read these paragraphs slowly and deliberately, combing through it for information about how my sons behave in class, how they treat their classmates, whether they are respectful to their teachers.
I don’t care about the letter grades my kids have earned. I care about the people they are becoming.
My oldest son is in fourth grade now, and my husband and I have spent many hours sitting on tiny chairs at parent-teacher conferences discussing our sons’ progress, academic and otherwise, and each time I want to skip through the academic discussion and cut to the chase.
You see, I’m far less concerned about how many words per minute my first-grader can read and whether my older son can do long division than I am about whether they are kind and respectful. Are they a good friend? Do they invite new kids to join their games at recess? Do they congratulate classmates on their successes? Do they help others?
Of course, I want to make sure my kids are on the right track academically. I want to know if they are struggling, and if they need extra support. I want them to appreciate the value of hard work. I want them to learn about math, language, science, and the world, but knowledge isn’t necessarily equivalent to good grades or acing a test. Assessments, grades, and test scores are bench-markers, but they do not tell the whole story.
Even if they did, I’m not sure that I would care that much because I’m far more concerned about whether my kids are kind, compassionate, and helpful humans than whether they are getting an A. I’m not raising students; I’m raising humans.
Call me lazy, but I don’t spend hours drilling my kids on math facts or keeping track of their reading logs. When they get home from school, I don’t ask them about their spelling quiz or how they did on their math test. Instead, I ask them, “Who were you kind to today?” and “Who was kind to you?” These are the things I want to know. Did you make someone smile? Did you make someone laugh? Did you make someone else feel special? These are the hallmarks of a good person, not just a good student.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want my children to fall behind academically, and if they are struggling, I want to know about it so that we all — my husband and me, my child, and his teacher — can do something to help him get on the right track. But aside from that, I am perfectly happy to rest comfortably in the “average” category when it comes to things like grades, the honor roll, and standardized tests.
It is the other categories — things like friendship, teamwork, kindness, generosity — where I want them to really excel.
Before my oldest son started first grade, I wrote him a letter. In it, I told him three secrets. I told him that superheroes aren’t just in storybooks, but sometimes they are the ones standing in front of the chalkboard each morning. Teachers are superheroes. I also told him that when things get hard — and they most certainly will — almost everything can become just a little easier to handle with a few good, long, deep breaths. And the third secret? Well, that’s the most important one. “You are the magic,” I told him. “You just have to be the best you that you can be.”
I reminded him that when he is the best version of himself, when he works hard, when he’s brave and kind, he can grab a handful of that magic and sprinkle it around. We all can.
So yes, I want my kids to study and work hard. I don’t want them to struggle in school and I hope they get decent grades, but what I really care about is whether they are spreading magic — kindness, friendship, generosity — into the classroom and the world.
If they are doing that, they’re on this highest of honor rolls in my book.