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January, 2008

Coyote Morning

Elementary Creative Writing
And the baloney award goes to...
By  Alison Tharen

Parents are delusional when it comes to recognizing their children's shortcomings.
All teachers are creative writers.

Any parent who tries to interpret their child’s report card knows this. As the author of children’s books, articles, and an elementary school teacher, I can say with a sliver of authority that it takes a great deal of creative skill to deftly craft a piece of writing as ambiguous and equivocal as a report card.

Most parents are totally oblivious to the true meaning behind what a teacher has written. I remember cringing on a visit to my brother’s house after spotting my nephew’s junior kindergarten report card smartly displayed in the middle of the fridge.

Brother beaming, I silently interpreted the teacher’s remarks, "Joey is beginning to adjust to a classroom setting. He is learning to accept responsibility for his actions and is “starting to demonstrate some self-control by following classroom rules and routines.’’

“You see, he’s doing well!’’ my brother bragged.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the teacher, had she been allowed to write in plain English, had actually written: Joey is a little pain in the bum who p.o.s both me and the other kids. The lazy little bugger won’t sit still, doesn’t listen, and is driving me to drink.’’

I am as guilty of creating false testimony as any other teacher. I have my favourite phrases, pocket comments I pull out when writing report cards or any other communications to my students’ parents. Carefully chosen words to present uncomfortable information in the kindest tone possible. Little placebo pronouncements designed to placate parents who are deluded in respect to the imperfections of their little darlins’.

For those of you with kids in school, a quick primer in the creative usage of language in report cards:

Jimmy is learning to... is starting to... is beginning to...

(Interpretation: Your kid should know this already. Didn’t you teach him anything?)

Kevie is being encouraged to...

(Interpretation: Geez, how many times do I have to tell him the same thing!)

Teddy needs teacher assistance to...

(Interpretation: If I don’t sit on him he doesn’t get it done! Do you think he’s the only kid in the room?)

I will continue to encourage Jeffrey to...

(I’m stuck with him for six more months. Note to self -- ask doc for Valium.)

Richie is beginning to show some progress in...

(What the Hell’s the matter with him? All the other kids got it ages ago!)

And my personal favourite:

I hope you have a wonderful summer vacation. It has been a pleasure having Dee Dee in my class.

(This year is finally, finally over. I’m outta here.)

You gotta give teachers credit. Most writers embrace the creative process or at least have an innate, insane, or masochistic urge that can only be satisfied by throwing themselves into it. Teachers don’t want to be creative writers. They’d much rather read a fairy tale than write one.

If they did write a fairy tale it would be something like, "Once upon a time in Perfectville all of the students got A+ in every subject. The teachers got to write glowing comments on all of their report cards and they all lived happily ever after. The End’’

Other writers get public acknowledgment, praise, and in a few cases even fame and fortune for their creative efforts. Perhaps there should be a special prize for teachers.

And this year's Pulitzer for the most creative report card baloney goes to...

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Alison Tharen is a former staff writer for Toronto, Canada's Grolier Publishing Inc, the author of 28 published children’s books and contributing author to 18 children’s text books. She is currently finishing two new children’s book manuscripts. Email

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