Maddie Di MuccioIn the next few weeks, parents of Toronto’s 75,000 public high school students will be receiving year-end report cards in the mail. These report cards will contain final grades, but they won’t include any teacher comments due to an on-going labour dispute between the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF).

The OSSTF is engaged in a work to rule campaign against the school board. And, as is usually the case, the ultimate targets of these shenanigans tend to be the students and parents.  Nor is this news limited to Toronto schools. Similar union tactics have been used across Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and elsewhere.

Report cards that don’t include teacher comments fail to provide context to the final grade and can make it near impossible for parents to assess the academic progress of the child. We all want our kids to get good marks, but we also recognize that the development of good work habits, pride in accomplishments, and self confidence are not necessarily reflected in the final grade.  Yet these attributes and others are actually far more important to a child’s development than the culmination of test scores. This is why teachers’ comments are so valuable.

I don’t think parents should simply accept the blank section of the report cards as a fair way of teaching our kids. If the teachers’ union is prohibiting teachers from providing comments, then the onus falls upon parents and students themselves to fill in the missing information.

Parents, take this as an opportunity to speak with your child about their school work.  Asking your child leading questions can result in a meaningful dialogue about their high school academics.

As a parent of teenage boys, I’ve struggled to get my kids to open up about their school experiences.  My boys want to focus on their marks (which thankfully are good) as opposed to how they feel about their course work, their study habits, or even whether they enjoyed the course.

Using the information I receive about the teacher or the course work, I’m able to turn the conversation inward. For example, my son may might say that his science teacher assigned too many group assignments. I could use this as an opening to ask if he enjoys working in a group, or if he finds group work to be frustrating. You would be amazed what you can learn about your child from this line of questioning.

If a child says a particular class was boring, that may indicate that the pace of the classroom moved too slowly for them.

If a child says the pace of the classroom was too fast or the student often felt lost during a lesson, that may indicate that homework wasn’t completed on time, or that the child has fallen behind in learning some of the fundamentals of the subject matter.

When a parent listens carefully to the feedback a child provides about their coursework, a lot of important information can be discovered about the child’s progress.

The OSSTF is downplaying their decision to prohibit teachers’ comments by publicly telling parents that teachers comments on high school report cards are unimportant. Parents know that statement isn’t true. Poor study habits in grade 9 or 10 are hard to correct by the time grade 11 and 12 come along. Teachers may complain about ‘helicopter parents’, but this is only a sign that parents appreciate the importance of high school achievements.

The fact that teachers aren’t providing comments on high school report cards is meant by the union to be taken in a negative light. But it’s also an excellent opportunity to create a dialogue between parents and students  that may be more valuable than any cookie cutter comment that the teacher may have provided.  If the teachers don’t want to include comments, then the parents and students should write their own.

Maddie Di Muccio is a former town councillor in Newmarket, Ont., and former columnist with the Toronto Sun.

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