When I was in school ... I loved the days when grades came home.
I looked forward to my parents going to conferences and bringing home my report card.
Grades meant everything to me. I believed grades were a reflection of who I was. I believed they proved how hard I worked and gave my parents a reason to be proud of me.
I was devastated with anything less than an "A". I worked hard in high school. I worked harder in college and went on to law school. Good grades meant I was making progress, I was surpassing expectations and I was exceptional at something.
As a parent, of both a child with special needs and a child in regular education, I am learning that you do not need a good grade to tell you all of that about yourself.
When I had children, I assumed report card time would be a joyous and exciting time in our household as well.
It has not gone as I expected. When we had our son Brady's first parent teacher conference, my husband and I were nervous and excited, but filled with hope. We arrived early for our conference and waited anxiously for the family ahead of us to finish up. Since Brady is only 3 1/2 and completely non-verbal, we had little idea of what he had been accomplishing in school. The notes that came home from school were very general and geared towards all the children, so we still had all of our dreams and hopes and ideas of what Brady was accomplishing in class.
To be fair, we knew what he was like at home. We knew the progress was moving at a snail's pace. We knew he didn't pay attention to anything at home, he didn't play with toys and he didn't interact with any children...but maybe everything was different at school.
We went into that conference ... waiting for that first progress report (the equivalent of a 1st report card) ... with such high hopes and great expectations.
Those feelings of such hope and expectation dissipated quickly as Brady's teacher and speech therapist started to describe his progress. He has made almost no progress from the start of the year. They had concerns about his lack of attention, his constant need for adult assistance and generally, his inability to be a part of the group ... lots of concerns. His "report card" was filled with stars and minuses ... the stars mean "needs adult assistance" and the minus...well, we all know what a minus means when it is attached to anything.
We were devastated to receive this report ... this reflection of our son. I think more than anything ... we were devastated to know that the little boy we saw everyday at home, was indeed the same little boy they saw each day at school.
I started to feel like Brady's days at school were amounting to very little ... But then I realized that not everything can be measured in grades, or in plus and minuses or 1s and 2s ... some things can't be measured at all.
I started to think about the positive things that we have taken away from the first "card marking" ... I couldn't help but think about Brady's smile. Brady smiles every morning when I tell him he is going to school...time to get your backpack...time to ride the bus.
Oh how Brady loves riding the school bus. His face lights up when we see that yellow school bus round the corner. He has friends who call out his name when he steps on the bus and climbs into his own special seat. That alone deserves a big plus.
Our shy little boy, our little boy with hypotonia ... climbing up those big bus steps.
That is progress. That is a reflection of the boy he is. The little boy who appreciates little things and enjoys new adventures.
I thought about my little boy entering a classroom all by himself and learning to take his coat off ... little things I know ... but accomplishments ... pluses.
Brady is growing in school. He is learning. It may not be in the traditional sense of the word, but he is learning little things that we see each day at home.
He is gaining confidence. He is becoming a student. This past week report cards came home. End of the second marking period means no conferences, just report cards reflecting the last few months.
Our daughter Molly's report card was opened first. Molly is only in second grade, but has always brought home report cards that make me feel like I am looking at my own old report cards. Good grades, good reader, leader in her class and overall, a report card any parent would be thrilled to receive.
This year, I have spent too much time focusing on the little things that she could do just a tad bit better. I am not sure if I am pushing her hard because I think there is just a little bit more she can be doing ... or if I am putting so much pressure on her to be a reflection of the student I once was, because her brother cannot.
I do not want grades to define my children. I do not want those numbers and letters to be the only reflection of who my children are ... either of my children. So after the worry and joy of opening Molly's report card passed ... I unzipped Brady's back pack and started to read his second progress report. Sure enough, it was still covered in little stars ... little stars that mean "needs adult assistance" ... but then Joe and I saw them...4 little "+"s attached to those stars.
A plus. A few pluses. These were items that Brady CAN do.
Simple things. Sitting in a chair during circle time, cleaning up, all little things, almost things you wouldn't even think twice about ... but for us ... things we have worked years for. Things Brady has worked so very hard for. Those few little pluses gave us hope. They gave us strength.
We believe Brady worked very hard for those few plus marks. We believe that grades don't always reflect the hard work, determination and strength of our children.
Sometimes little things that can't be graded are a much clearer reflection of who our children are. I am so proud of all that my children have accomplished this school year ... big and small ... 1s and 2s ... pluses and minuses ... I am proud because I know how incredibly hard they have worked for each and every little accomplishment ... and that is what is most important.