To my Students on Report Card Day

My dears,

This morning you receive your report cards.  We are officially halfway through the school year.  I would congratulate you, but I have a feeling you won't feel your grades are much cause for celebration.  I don't feel much like partying myself.

I wish you knew how deeply and fully we understand how you feel when you read that number, that two-digit summary of all your effort over weeks and months, and your heart sinks a little.  Maybe it's not much, just a little less than you thought you'd get.  Maybe it's a lot less.  Maybe it means you'll have to miss the Sweetheart Dance or an upcoming tournament or surrender your cell phone.  Maybe, worst of all, your parents will give you the "Just Disappointed" talk.

Whatever it is, you should know that we feel it too.  We are just as frustrated, just as angry, just as confused as you are.  We thought we'd done all right.  We thought we'd prepared you for those tests.  We wrote the tests just for you, in fact, tweaking them to include lots of points for things like thesis statements, things everyone knows how to do.  We assembled questions that covered concepts we'd discussed in class, not just things you were supposed to read about for homework.  We asked over and over again if you understood, if you wanted us to repeat something, if you were doing all right with the texts.  We sent you to SparkNotes, for crying out loud, figuring it was better to understand a summary than to remain completely lost.

And now, like you, we're not sure what to do.  Should we start over with subject, verb, object, two-syllable vocabulary words and stories written for children?  Or just move on in a huff, washing our hands of your generation's ignorance?  Neither sounds particularly charitable, or particularly fun.  For myself, I have chosen to cry and contemplate, wondering what I missed and how I missed it.  Did I not give you the assignment in enough forms -- oral, written, digital?  Did I expect too much of you -- that you would be able to use that thesis to support examples from two different works we'd read and discussed, all while keeping Ben Franklin's aphorisms separate from Thomas Paine's political invective?  Did I assume you were more like I was at your age, and still am -- curious and stubborn enough to look it up if I didn't know it and figure it out if it confused me?  I don't know.  I don't know.  I feel like such a failure.

I wish, more fervently than I ever did as a student, that there was no such thing as grades; I wish I could grade you based on your sunny smiles and your startlingly bright comments, the ones you can pull out of the crevices in your brains even when you haven't read the stories, that remind me you are real people with hearts and fears and consequences.  It kills me to send those stupid little numbers off into oblivion, knowing what they will mean for you, knowing what you mean to me.

But here we are; I have to assess you on an objective basis, and that means I've got to have those tests count for something, and those brilliant found poems count for significantly less.  I have to hope you just crumpled under pressure, and that's why you didn't hand in your homework, lost your notebook, couldn't remember what I'd repeated endlessly in discussion.  I have to have this hope, because if I don't hold onto it, I will slide into the depths of a kind of despair you can't even imagine.  Because you're allowed to fail.  Kids are allowed to fail.  Grown-ups aren't.  We're supposed to have it all figured out.

Please be nice to me this morning.  I don't know if I can handle any attitude on Report Card Day.

Love, Mrs. Lowe