My report card always said, ‘Jim finishes first and then disrupts the other students’. — Jim Carrey
A friend and I always use the shorthand “report card hell” to describe the grading period coming to an end. It hasn’t left a lot of time for idle thought, and even regularly posting on this blog was a time luxury. Nevertheless, I am preparing to write 33 short stories over the next week or so, and it makes sense to get the words ready.
So it goes then, that my first trimester is closing out, and in between trying to get my grades finalized, scheduling conferences with parents is something akin to a pas de deux to find the right time to meet with parents, given their time requests and my time limitations. I allow myself to work up to when the school closes at 6pm on days in which the child can get picked up by the wife. I also give up my planning time and lunch hours as possibilities, but this year, as in other years past, very rarely do I miss out on break time. Things have grown more complicated in recent years. I was moved out of my long time classroom to a trailer that looks not unlike a refugee from Katrina-era New Orleans; bordering the edge of the playing field, it gets dark out there at this time of year and, having lost access to a school alarm key that I was fortunate to have for my first 13 years, it just makes sense to not tempt fate and stay any later than I absolutely have to stay.
But beyond scheduling conferences, the story of the first trimester is hardening and coming into shape. The students and their grades have formed a narrative all unto their own. The kids whom I thought would step forward have surprised me in not doing so; on the other hand, I’ve seen some slow starters coming into their own. In other words, hard work is trumping raw ability. Conferences will allow me to communicate this reality to the parents of my underperformers. If form follows, these kids should pick things up by our next set of report cards come March.
Of course, there are also those kids for whom conference merely represents an exercise in futility, in that despite a student’s potential, any positive performance we will see will be inconsistent and fleeting. The student has gotten in his own way. And, sadly, they are driving the very truck that is running them over.
Earl Weaver, the great Oriole manager, once mused that one of the reasons he moved Cal Ripken Jr. to shortstop from third base, was that in the middle infield, with the game on the line, he wanted Cal to be in a position to handle the baseball. I always keep that in mind when reviewing how I will shape the coming set of report card comments. Who are those kids for whom I can expect nothing but their best? Surprisingly, I’m not necessarily looking for the students who are posting the best grades, but those who are enthusiastically open to learning, and will take the risks that will get them to where they’ll want to be, not necessarily with me, but by the time the game is on the line in secondary school.
It’s short game versus long game. I teach the former, but I know I’m a component in how the latter will develop. We’ll see how it goes…