Thursday, March 18, 2010

Keep Up the Good Work

I was working on my class' report card comments tonight and I realized that I was completely abusing the phrase, "keep up the good work." I started trying out variations like the following:

You've maintained a consistent level of excellence.
Continue doing your best work.
I'm proud of you. Keep it up!
Way to go, again.
Awesome as always. (I awarded myself bonus points for the use of assonance.)

My students usually have really good grades. Most of them work very hard and most are above average, with a few exceptions. I love my class and I am truly proud of them 98% of the time.
At first I sincerely meant every utterance of Keep up the good work.

But then I started running out of ideas. The praise well had run dry. For some of my students the praise came easy. It flowed from my brain, through my fingers, and onto the computer screen. I freely used adjectives like awesome, great, fantastic, super, wonderful, amazing, incredible, and a couple of times I even said
tremendous. For others students, I had to really concentrate, hold my tongue just right, and do some serious creative writing just to get enough words to fill that rectangle on the card.

And I wondered why.

I started looking at the megawatt intelligence kids who always make straight As because they work hard and they care what their grades are. Then I looked at the kids who are not super-bright, but they have character out the wazoo and they work twice as hard as the straight A kids just to get Bs.

Then there were the kids who don't have the same advantages as the others. They come from single parent homes. Or homes with so many kids that the parents can't possibly give them one-on-one attention so they have to fend for themselves. Or the wonderful, caring two-parent families who are working two jobs just to put food on the table and can't be home every night to work on homework and preparing for tests. Those kids try and try and might never make above a C but they never give up.

Then there are the kids who frustrate me the most. These are the kids who have every advantage, but they take it for granted. They're the ones who don't make any effort and then act like the world owes them an apology when they make a B. The kids whose Moms make excuses for their behavior when the teachers dare to discipline them. The same kids whose Moms call the principal if their kid makes a C, because they haven't bothered to check their child's graded work each week. The parents who complain that the teacher isn't doing her job, despite the fact that said teacher has been sending home late work notices for weeks and the parents have neglected to sign them.Those are the kids for whom I struggle to write report card comments.

There are only so many ways that you can say, "Congratulations. Once again you've made the A- B Honor Roll. Because your parents have decided to show up in your life and help you out every step of the way, you continue to barely reach the bar which was set by those kids whose parents can't get off their lazy butts to help their kids score above a C. Ever. But they work ten times harder for that C than you ever thought about working for your As and Bs. Yay for you."

Or, "Congratulations on having the good fortune to be born to a rich father so that your Mommy can stay home and devote her every waking moment to you and the completion of your homework. Because of her efforts, you've made the Honor Roll once again. Whoopdy Freakin Doo."

When what I really want to say to some of my kids is, "Way to go, punkin. Despite the fact that your parents suck at life, you've once again managed to score in the dead center of average. You've landed in the 50th percentile for your grade level completely independently, without the help of any responsible adult in your life. I'm so proud of you. Keep on truckin."

ARGH! See why I stopped at "Keep up the good work"? I should never be encouraged to write what I really think.


Square Peg said...

Well Done you for not putting it on the report cards or sending them as letters home to parents. I would have been sorely tempted too.

As well you know being a parent is not easy, there are never enough hours in the day and sometimes the last thing you want to do is use your brain but you show up for your kids no matter what.

My biggest fear is not that my son wont get an A and its not that he wont be a superbrain its that he wont have the confidence to try, that he wont have the confidence to give it 100% because he assumes he can't do it.

Last week was the first full week he has managed at school since Christmas due to glandular fever and yesterday he got awarded a certificate for progress in literacy. He even did a little victory dance up on stage because he has the confidence to try and THAT is what a parent instills in their child when they show up.

If there were more teachers, parents and human beings that encouraged as apposed to just existed just imagine what the next generation could achieve!

Robin in Montana said...

I think that's a very interesting viewpoint on it. I have a kid who it does come fairly easy for, and I am there (her dad isn't, but the Co-Sinner seems to not mind being an actual father figure in her life) for her every single night to help with homework, talk about what's going on, etc. But still for her, it's no big deal. She does it becuase her best friend does it and because she likes hearing her name called at the assemblies.

My younger daughter? It does *not come easy for her. Not because she's not smart, because she is, but because her head has about 18 different topics going at full speed at all time. She's emotional, she's interested in horses, not spelling lists, she's thinking about which kid on the playground said which other kid is ugly, etc., etc., etc. It is so stinking hard to keep her reined in and focused, and when she *does do well, she's happy, but in a vague, "huh, I'll be damned" sort of way.

Good grief.

Lyn said...

I had a little slacker last year that cried every time I pushed him to try harder on a tech project. Wrote a comment about his change in attitude on his first report card this year and suddenly he has become a shining star in my class. Works every time. I write a positive comment on every single one of the report cards I must mark for my 583 technology students. (Thanks goodness Kdg and firstys do not get a tech report card or there would be over 700 to record!) I have found it to be worth every second it takes to find something positive. Kids glow. Parents smile and try a little harder to be the parent you expect them to be. Its not an easy job and your students may not remember everything you taught them but they WILL remember how you made them feel about themselves. After 30 years in the classroom and having made Facebook connections with a host of my former Kindy students, I can personally attest to that.