As we angle in on the end of yet another school year I can’t help but be impressed by the approach taken by current educators to ensure that students enjoy the season, even after a long tiring year. My significantly better half, a seasoned teacher herself, tells me of the enjoyable activities and positivity that make up the last few days of school. This contrasts sharply with the angst that I associated with the end of June when I was in elementary school.
Please don’t get me wrong, the last couple of weeks of each of my grade school years were intended to be wonderful, fun times. I’m sure my teachers went to great lengths to make the year-end pleasant after all the studying. Field trips, movies, arts and crafts, free gym classes were all on the agenda. But, for me, looming over all these enjoyable events like a dark cloud, a miasma of dread and fear, was the specter of report card distribution.
In the late sixties report cards were still handwritten cardboard documents, no computer print-outs yet, that students brought home three or four times a year with the most recent term’s marks inscribed by the teacher. Parents were required to sign-off on the card, indicating they had indeed read it, and the student then brought it back to school.
When I was in school the last thing to happen on the last day of school was the presentation of the final report cards, after which you were truly free for the summer. The principal, in my case usually a nun, would slither from classroom to classroom where she would usurp the teacher’s desk for the process of report card distribution. Each student would be called up individually and would sit on a chair that had been positioned to the left of the teacher’s desk, and the principal would make a few comments before giving the student his or her report card.
“Good to see your improvement in math.” “Nice job with the history mark.” “Keep working on that geography.”
Not a whit did I care about these comments, nor did I really concern myself with my individual subject marks. All that mattered to me was contained in a small box on the lower part of the back page of the report card that indicated whether I, in the learned assessment of the teacher, was ready to attend the next grade come September – the certificate of promotion. It was something along the lines of “I certify that this student should attend grade X next year.” This was duly signed by the teacher. All I cared about was that the number – X- in that sentence was one year higher than the one I had just completed. In other words, I had passed.
It was only later in life, in fact much later, that I twigged on to the fact that those unfortunate students who did not make the grade, who would be repeating the year next September, put more crudely, those who had failed, did not have to attend the report card distribution. Ergo if you were there, you were okay. Had someone let me in on that little secret then, there is no telling what anxiety, hand-wringing, sleepless nights and worry I would have been spared. To say nothing of how I would have enjoyed those end of year activities.
I recall, in grade five I believe it was, arriving back at the classroom after lunch to find report cards placed on our desks. Odd, I remember thinking, the principal gives these out. Maybe she took ill and had to leave them like this. I took the report card from my desk, as did the others, and checked the all important back page box. That’s when it started, my stomach swirled, my young brow broke out in a young sweat, my heart pounded in my ears and my mouth dried as I read that it had been recommended that I attend grade five in September. The number in the sentence was five, the same grade again, I must have failed.
In a daze I quietly slipped the report card in my desk and tried to clear my head. It was then, after mere minutes that felt like an eternity, that a classmate pointed out that these were last year’s cards being returned to us. Good Sweet Jesus, I don’t think the sense of relief I experienced has ever been replicated in my life.
Without the ability to fear, my last-day-at-school angst would have been eradicated!