Could do better…

This morning my sister sent me a copy of my 6-year-old nephew’s report.  It was a surprisingly good read!

Writing school reports is a dying art.  Please don’t get me wrong.  I have been a teacher for much of my life and I completely understand that it is no longer possible or acceptable to say just what you think about your students.  As teachers drown under mountains of paperwork, face rising class sizes and exacting standards of political correctness there is little option but to follow carefully set guidelines.

However, I am sure many of our generation yearn for the brutal honesty and caustic wit of the teachers of yesteryear – if only to provide us with good speech material for 21st birthdays, weddings and funerals!

At my Father’s funeral we were reminded of his favourite report penned by “a tyrant of a school master” known (affectionately) as “Bloody Bill”.  Of my Father’s mathematical ability he wrote:-

I only trust that this boy’s crass stupidity coupled with the most repellent slothfulness is not hereditary”.

 This report, my father assured us, made the whole family sit up and take notice!  What is more, it appears Bloody Bill was spot on.  My own mathematics report, a number of decades later, read, “Maria struggles to understand basic mathematical concepts.  She should sit nearer the front of the class and ask more questions rather than doodling artistically on her notebook in the back row”.

I would suggest that Mrs Thomas did not “nail it” quite as effectively as Bloody Bill but she had more to offer than the more contemporary style, “Sarah finds maths challenging.  It would help if she completed her homework.”  Yawn!

 Perhaps the need for deeply reflective reports has been largely negated by the greater opportunity for face to face interviews with teachers.  The spoken word is transitory and carries less risk.  Sadly memory is selective and some advice is worth keeping. Take the following letter written by the housemaster of a boarding school in England to the mother of one of his boys:-

“Do not despair.  Ride the storm.  Be firm but affectionate.  At this moment when he seems to need you least, he in fact needs you most.  Take a stand about the principles you regard as fundamental; give him rope about the less important things.  Do not worry too much about his wearing apparel or the length of his hair.  Comfort yourself with the knowledge that his present moods are transitory.  If you can do this and stand firm as a rock in the midst of his tempestuous life, the small boy whom you thought you had lost will return to you as a charming young man, well-groomed in appearance and with delightful manners. 

It will have been well worth waiting for.   Meanwhile we are in for one hell of a time!”

 (A copy of the full letter hangs in the halls of The Perse, Cambridge).

And as for my nephew – his report gave me cause for hope that the art of report writing is not entirely lost.   The concluding line read, “Sam must not use his age and diminutive size as an excuse for an unwillingness to conform.”

Glad to see he is following the family tradition!

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(This story is  from the archives)

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Maria Farrer

Born and raised in the South of England, Maria Farrer began her working life as a speech therapist and teacher and later as a lecturer in specific learning difficulties. Happily, an indefinable urge brought the entire family to New Zealand in 2001 since when she has indulged in her passion for writing, particularly for children.