A D AND an F…

February 20, 2020

Each year in our academic journey beginning in preschool, my mom saved our treasured “masterpieces.” Everything from the hand print turkey at Thanksgiving and the paper plate Christmas wreath to the end of year stories of summer vacation plans and book report dioramas. My 5th grade styrofoam graveyard scene from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer sat high atop my closet shelf well into high school.

I often rummaged through the items during the summer reminiscing about the year. I did the same with my yearbooks. As I got older, I questioned the reasoning of keeping the items. I found them to take up space and increase clutter in my closet. My mom often responded to my inquiries with, “You’ll understand when you’re a mom.”

My son will tell you that that “mom gene” didn’t take. I allowed Maddy and Hunter to each save 5 items a year. One afternoon, I found Hunter hiding a few items under his bed. When I questioned his actions assuming he was sneaking something he wasn’t supposed to have, his response caused me to burst out laughing. “Well, you get so hyper about clutter, I didn’t want you throw this away.”

I digress.

One item saved by my mother was my 6th grade report card. At the time, I didn’t realize that she had saved it. Honestly, it never occurred to me it was worth saving. In fact, until I became an administrator, I believed it should have been destroyed, burned at the stake, or buried beneath the rubble of the Loma Prieta earthquake. When my mother moved to Colorado in the late 90s, she arrived with the special treasures of my childhood. And passed them on to me…to clutter my basement.

Prior to transitioning the treasures to the recycling bin, I rifled through them to see if there was anything worth keeping. I came across my report card. Instantaneously, I found myself in Mr. B’s class. Not my best year. Likely, my worst experience as a student ever. Emotions clogged my throat and filled my eyes.

I called my mom. I choked on the tears, shocked by my reaction and asked her why on earth she saved the symbol of my childhood failures. Without hesitation, she said, “Because I know one day you will need it.”

“As what, kindling?” I retorted immediately.

She encouraged me to keep it but gave her blessing to discard it. She would just “Be disappointed” if that was my decision.

Knife to the heart.

A fear of disappointing others is my Achilles Heel.

I kept it. For literally years.

After a particularly discouraging day in my first year of administration at SkyView, I took 7 laps around the building to think. I found myself struggling to connect with a student who was struggling both emotionally and academically. I attempted and failed to establish trust. As I trudged around the halls, I remembered my report card. I made my way back to my office, packed up, and headed home to find it.

The next day, I brought the student to my office and acknowledged that I was struggling to find ways to support him. I asked him why he thought that was the case. He immediately said, “Because you know everything. There is no way you could ever understand me.”

I handed him my report card and said, “Look at the highlighted grades in math. What do you see?”

He opened the report card, examined the grades, and looked up in shock. “Geez, Mrs. Worley, you were really stupid.” Realizing what he said, he looked at me in horror. He stammered to find a way to take back what he said.

I smiled and said, “I know. Can you believe they put such an idiot in charge of middle school?” I followed up with, “Seriously, though. Aren’t you impressed that I earned a D AND an F?”

Once again, I found wisdom in my mother’s parenting. And be honest, the power of the guilt trip. Having access to that report card allowed me not only connection with that student, but many more since. I use it all the time. If you ever need to see it, stop in. I’d be glad to show it to you.

As I conclude this post, I respectfully ask you to consider your position on grades. Am I asserting that I want students to earn Ds and Fs. Absolutely not. I am asserting, however, that I don’t want grades to define students. Nor do I want your student’s grades to define you.

I want grades to allow us to identify areas of necessary growth and improvement. I want students to arrive in high school ready to conquer the task at hand-To prepare for college. If that means there are Ds and Fs along the way, so be it. They will survive it. So will you.

As promised, I return to the questions listed in my original post of this series. For this post, I respectfully ask you to consider the questions below. What is your why?

  1. Why is it important to me for my student to have A’s?
  2. What do I believe about myself as a parent if my child doesn’t have A’s?
  3. What is my greatest fear if my child earns a D or an F?

Honored to Serve You All,

Janet Worley