My mother found my fourth-grade report card the other day and mailed it to me. On the surface it shows a chronic C student who doesn’t give a damn about anything.
But when I read between the lines I can see exactly where my 10-year-old head was at.
If you look at it on the surface, you see a straight-C student who occasionally sinks to a D in social studies and math. On the back of the report card are comments each quarter from my teacher, describing me as a kid who puts no effort into anything.
My first thought on reading it was that this teacher didn’t like me, and that the feeling was mutual. In reality, I don’t think she disliked me. I think she saw a kid adrift and was trying to scare my parents into a more rigorous study routine at home.
Unfortunately for her and me, she wasn’t the type of teacher who was going to get through to me. She took the academics very seriously, but did little to appeal to the more creative side of me. Teachers before and after her would have a lot more success in that regard. She didn’t get me and I didn’t get her. A troubled kid needs nurturing personalities to intervene.
Even as an adult who has enjoyed a fair amount of career success it’s the same: The more nurturing bosses get more out of me. The ones who shove a 13-point plan in my face and tell me to do it get nothing but trouble. Luckily for me, I’ve only had a couple bosses like that along the way.
I have been both types of boss myself, and I’ve found that most people do better with supervisors who are nurturing souls.
In the 1980-81 school year at Theodore Roosevelt School in the Point of Pines, Revere, Mass., I needed a lot of nurturing.
My parents divorced in the summer of 1980 and it was not a civilized, amicable process. The yelling and instability sent me on to such soothing pursuits as lighting things on fire and shoving the garden hose into an air vent on the side of the house.
I was also sick most of the time with Crohn’s Disease. If you look at my attendance record, there’s a 20-plus day absence in the fourth quarter. That was for one of my extended hospital stays. I missed the class picture shoot that spring, which is probably for the best. I wasn’t a pleasant site.
Erin was pained to look at my report card. She never got grades so consistently bad. She felt sympathy for the teacher, who was obviously trying to get my parents’ attention. But in the raw wake of divorce and the illnesses me and my older brother suffered from, they obviously were distracted. I don’t blame them.
I suppose I should have felt sad looking at the report card, but I don’t. I see it for what it was — a snapshot of a difficult period of time. I survived it, and turned into an excellent student once I had a couple years of college under my belt. I would argue that despite it all, I turned out just fine.
What makes me even happier is that at least to date, my children do well academically. Duncan has some ADHD-related challenges, but his grades are mostly good and he has a heart I didn’t have at that age. That heart will take him far.
Sean is currently the same age I was when I brought home that report card. He’s razor-sharp academically, though like me at that age, he often rushes through his homework, the most notable evidence being his sloppy penmanship. We can work with that.
I’d like to think that their better academic luck reflects that we’re giving them a good home life — better than mine was, at least.
To me, the big lesson is that when a kid brings home a bad report card, it’s not enough to just look at the grades and brand the student a success or failure based on the letters and numbers alone.
There’s always a story behind the grades, and taking the time to know the story is key to helping that child going forward.