Sticks and Stones

I know grades don’t really matter. Grades are simply a reflection of how someone sees your work, your learning or your performance. They are not you and do not define you as a human. They cannot capture the complexities that comprise a human being. But they still hurt.

I opened up my son’s kindergarten report card and burst into tears. This is how they see my son? I hid in the kitchen and sobbed quietly into a dishtowel while my son watched a movie in the living room.

I am not disappointed in him. I am disappointed in the school. The entire report card was filled with grades that show he’s below level in every single area – including some I thought it was impossible to fail, like Visual Art and Phys. Ed. Apparently not at this school.

As a Visual Art teacher, with ten years of experience of teaching ‘at risk students’ I loved teaching Art, and watching my student’s confidence grow as I showed them parts of themselves they never imagined. One memorable student was assigned to my class after being kicked out of the shop programs for fighting and dropping a car off a lift. He created Monet-esque pastel drawings of landscapes and sunrises. His work was proudly displayed throughout the school. He was successful for the first time ever.

I love the different styles in Art, the wild abstractions and hyper-realism and everything in between. I love that anyone can be successful if their work is seen in the right light. Is that part of your drawing not working? Cut it off. Is your strength patterning? Abstract painting may be your thing. Is your strength neat printing and an orderly manner? Try graphic design. Literally, the sky’s the limit and everyone can create something of value.

Most students in my classes earn at least a B. They can demonstrate an understanding of theory, they apply the theory and knowledge to their work and analyse other art works. I have never had a single student fail Art.

My son just failed Visual Art, in Kindergarten. He FAILED Art. In KINDERGARTEN.

What are they thinking?

I only see things from a parent’s perspective, but in this year I’ve seen my son from happily painting swamps, volcanoes and abstract works to refusing to do anything involving a pencil or paper. He cries when he’s asked to sign his name, wailing that he can’t make straight lines.

Well, neither can I. In my time as an artist I’ve lost such a significant amount of mobility in my hands and fingers to the point that I cannot draw or paint anything like I used to. I used to do hyper-realistic drawings and paintings. Now my fingers don’t work to hold a brush or pencil tight enough. So I embrace the full body movements of abstract expressionism and splash colour across enormous canvases.

But I never could draw a straight line. The precision of graphic design is not for me. And I never failed Art for that.

So when I think of the report card that I sobbed over, listing all of my son’s failings and shortcomings, I know deep down that he did not fail. The school did.


About Angela

Super-powered, Special Ed teacher and special needs mama to FOUR (!) children with an assortment of special needs; including Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and Prader Willi Syndrome. Our family features a heavy dose of good ol' ADHD). I blog about our halfpastnormal life.
This entry was posted in disABILTY, Education, Parenting and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Sticks and Stones

  1. Wendi says:

    Hello, I just had to comment on this post. I am a special education teacher in the United States and I teach a self-contained class known in my district as “nonsevere handicapped”. This means that my students are considered “high functioning”; they have learning disabilities, speech impairments, or high functioning autism. In my program, I am required to teach grade level core curriculum regardless of the students’ abilities. In some ways, I have seen the benefit of this. My students receive a lot of support in working on work at their grade level along with interventions to address individual needs. That said, I am required to grade my students on our state standards as I would a “general education” student. I am not allowed to give them “modified grades”. While I find this incredibly unfair (how to grade a fourth grader on 4th grade reading comprehension when he cannot even blend cvc words, for example, and not for lack of trying!) I do see the value in the sense of it giving parents one way to realistically compare their students with those not receiving special education services. However, when I give a student a failing grade (depending on the circumstances) I do tell parents to not focus so much on the grade itself, but rather the progress and small things accomplished throughout the school year or term. I say this to encourage you, that you KNOW what your son has accomplished this year and the progress he has made, even if it’s not reflected in the grades. And maybe not be too hard on his teacher? (I say these things not knowing how students with special needs are addressed where you live)

  2. Miriam says:

    This is heartbreaking 😦 Have you considered homeschooling? I know it’s an individual decision, not right for everyone, but I had to throw it out there after reading this…

  3. funnygurl2 says:

    I loved Art in school. I was pretty good at it. But I hated trying to do all the “concept” projects. I hated getting a B on a perspective drawing because my house got too small in the distance too quickly. I just wanted to freestyle. I can only imagine how magnified that feeling is for you and your son:(

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