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Value, Acceptance and the Mighty 4

I would love to be writing about Skye and Pin Jun again this week. Explaining about Pin Jun’s struggles to accept that she could be falling in love with a girl and Skye’s inner turmoil about finding out that she was adopted in a very unconventional way.

Sadly, there is no room for fiction in my mind right now. It has been stepped on, kicked to the ground and trampled by report cards.

Now, I know compared to the civil war that is threatening to overtake the country, report cards are a small thing. Unfortunately, if you are a teacher, they are a small thing that takes a giant bite out of your life (not to mention your mental health and well-being).

Writing report cards is difficult for me because I feel that boiling kids down to how they fit as numbers into square boxes is wrong. The kids I work with are lovely and complex human beings, who have a range of talents and quirks that don’t always lend themselves to a four point measuring system.

I want to be able to tell parents about the little magic moments or social-emotional successes that really don’t lend themselves well to the report card system.

I also want to tell kids that I see them.

I see them try even when it’s scary. I see them take risks and not quite succeed. I see them loudly (or quietly) suffer through perceived injustices. Mostly, I want them to know that to me, they are all 4s.

4s are what the kids want to be. They don’t care about the words that are written on the report card, they don’t care about whether they get a consistently or a sometimes on their learning behaviours. They care about 4s. Generally, they don’t even care whether the 4 is in English or Art, all they care about is that there are 4s on their report cards. All they care about is feeling like they are good enough.

What does a 4 actually mean? It means: Very good to excellent understanding and application of concepts and skills. Maintaining very good to excellent understanding and application is not easy. It is not, from an academic standpoint, something that everyone can do. I would never have gotten a 4 in elementary school (our grading scale was G, S and N, which I think stood for Good, Satisfactory and No fucking way, and even G was something I wasn’t much up for in my early academic career).

The problem is that I can’t give someone a 4 for being kind and considerate, there are no 4s for including others and being a good friend, no one gets a 4 because they are always eager and willing to help. Where do you get a 4 if you are a tactile kinesthetic learner? Where do you get a 4 if you are incredibly creative and inventive?

Thinking about it gives me a headache, or maybe a heartache. I don’t know if it comes through on the drab and dry 4 page document that I eventually have to send home, but I agonize over each number and letter that I put on those papers. I agonize over how to show kids that are not naturally academic that they matter just as much as the kid who goes home with a report card filled with 4s.

The agony increases a little when my own kids bring home their report cards and I hear them counting and comparing 4s. I tell my kids over and over that I don’t care about their 4s, it’s only their learning behaviours that matter to me.

And it’s true, or mostly true. I want my kids to feel accepted and validated by the system where they will spend at least 14 years of their lives. I want them to feel seen and heard for their many and varied talents and skills.

My kids are all very good to excellent at many things, but I know only too well that some of those things are much more valued in our institution than others.

Avery has an amazing ability to see things from a totally different perspective. He is an abstract artist who truly thinks outside the box.

Tavin excels at running, climbing, planning and building. He likes to think with his hands, taking things apart and putting them back together again.

Unfortunately, neither of those skill sets will put a lot of 4s inside boxes.

Riley loves reading and music above all other things in life. Although, this year, his decision that he would like to eventually lead the NDP has put social studies in his favourite subject spot. Riley could be a candidate for 4s, as long as he can remember to stop talking long

enough to get his job done.

Bennett has been having a love affair with math this year. He is gifted with numbers and can already multiply and divide in grade 2! He tries hard in all school subjects, he is kind to other students and always eager to help. Bennett will be valued by our education system and (at least at this point) he will never gloat about it to his brothers, but I still want him to know that he is more than the 4s that appear in the little boxes on his report card.

My report cards are calling me and I need to put this blog up so that I can get back to the soul sucking task of boiling children down to numbers and letters. But, before I go, parents, if you’re reading this, please PLEASE stop paying your kids for their 4s.

If you feel you must give them payment for something, check to see if they are helpful, if they are kind, compassionate and work well with others. Don’t add any weight to the already mighty 4, but instead shift the focus to the skills that we need to build a planet where your kids can flourish and prosper. A planet based on mutual respect and caring instead of small boxes with little numbers.

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