two young children with backpacks and school folders, trying to see what's inside


I Don’t Let My Kids Read Their Report Cards

Sep 7, 2021

"Mom, did you know you got a C- in English?" my then eight-year-old asks, her head poking out from beside the twin bed I slept in for nearly two decades. She’s sitting on the floor, rifling through a series of saved report cards from my childhood.

She reads through my past school grades and the corresponding comments from teachers with interest and awe. These are the first report cards she’s ever seen.

"Yeah, I had a really hard time in school," I reply, feeling that familiar wave of shame. How did I earn such poor grades in English, and what does it mean about me now as a professional writer? I push back those thoughts, and ask my daughter why she’s so intrigued by these ancient-seeming pieces of paper.

“I don’t know, it’s fun to look at,” she shrugs, pushing the papers aside and turning to a bag filled with beanie babies instead. "Why can’t we read our report cards?" she asks.

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My two eldest children, who are now in Grades 2 and 4, have been receiving report cards for years. Each term they return home with those familiar brown envelopes stuffed with letter grades and notes from their teachers.

"I don’t let my children read their report cards because I know what it’s like to tie my value to grades."

As I remove their lunch bags and school crafts, I also quietly remove the report cards and store them somewhere safe. Once the kids are asleep, I take the pages out of the envelope and read them — smiling at the comments about my kids’ generosity and friendliness.

I don’t let my children read their report cards because I know what it’s like to tie my value to grades, and how disheartening it can be to receive a grade lower than I hoped — particularly when it’s a subject I enjoyed, or even thought I was good at.

It’s not that I don’t take my children’s education seriously; I have had lengthy conversations with teachers about my kids’ struggles and triumphs. I am actively involved in their education, volunteering frequently in their classrooms pre-COVID, sitting and reading with them every night, working on math games and encouraging them to try their best.

However, I just don’t see any value in having my children read a report card that offers a small measure of their success.

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During report card season, I always make sure to sit down with my children and relay a few of the positive comments from their teachers. I’ll ask them about the subjects they like best, and whether there’s an area they’d like to improve on.

"A grade can’t measure the gentle way my children introduce themselves to new friends."

We have our own little conference, but by then the report card has been added to the pile of recycling, a piece of paper that doesn’t contain the kind of meaningful information that I feel needs to be saved (it helps that I’m not very nostalgic and am a pretty intense purger of things).

The time may come where my kids insist on reading their report cards, but for now they seem content with allowing me to relay the best bits, and leaving the rest behind.

In the grand scheme of things, a grade doesn’t measure much. It doesn’t tell me about the late nights my kids spend reading in bed, or the day they spent measuring things in the house with an old wooden ruler. It doesn’t tell me about the piles of masks that sit in a bag beside my laundry room, worn without complaint by my children who just want things to be “normal” again. A grade can’t measure the gentle way my children introduce themselves to new friends.

In our home, a grade doesn’t measure much that’s worth measuring.

Article Author Brianna Bell
Brianna Bell

Read more from Brianna here.

Brianna Bell is a writer and journalist based in Guelph, Ontario. She has written for many online and print publications, including The Globe & Mail, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

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