"As a teacher who used to write school reports, this is what those comments really mean."

For many school aged parents out there, good or bad school reports have probably been a hot topic of conversation in your household over the past few weeks. As a parent of a prep I received my first ever school report this month but being an ex-teacher, it definitely hasn’t been the first one I’ve read.

As I studied the comments about my daughter the report writing memories came flooding back. And along with those memories came some of the particular strategies teachers use to get through the tortuous process that is report writing time.

Teachers are always told to make ‘original’ comments, each student is an individual, the comments should reflect this. But as any teacher, past or present would know writing two hundred (minimum) individual comments isn’t necessarily efficient or practical so often we used word banks.

"Teachers are always told to make ‘original’ comments, each student is an individual, the comments should reflect this." Image: Supplied.

These ‘Word Banks’ were a group of key terms or phrases that were regularly recycled with some alterations made to suit the specific student. I often found that the more frequently recycled comments were the ones used for a certain type of student.

They consisted of a nicely phrased comment that instead of saying what we really thought, “your child is a complete moron and wastes all my time” we would instead write, “*Billy is an energetic member of the class with an abundance of ideas. Billy should endeavour to put this energy into his classwork to help improve his results."

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So here is a list of some of my favourite school report comments and what they really mean:

‘Very active in class discussions’ or ‘eager to participate in class discussions’: Over opinionated and likes the sound of their own voice. Could most likely do with some improvements on the listening front. Most likely just calls out random comments without any thought or consideration for others.


‘Strong opinions’: Has to argue with everything you say. Often the opinions are echoed ideas directly from their parents and the student has very little understanding of what they are actually arguing about.

‘Spirited’: Distracted and distracting. Often the class clown or a member of the ‘shudder’ (AKA the collective noun for clowns). They pretty much do anything they can for attention apart from what they are actually meant to be doing.

shona hendley
"‘Strong opinions’- has to argue with everything you say." Image: Supplied.

"Has a great sense of social justice":  A ‘dibber dobber’ who tells the teacher on anyone who even thinks about breaking the school rules. Probably viewed as a positive thing in the earlier years of primary school but with continued use will result in social isolation.

“Needs frequent reminders to stay on task”:  Has to be nagged constantly to even consider opening the book/computer/what ever device they are meant to be working from. Usually looking at their phone, talking to the person next to them, drawing ‘art’ on the cover of their book or staring mindlessly out of the window.

“Often comes to class unprepared”: Brings nothing apart from themselves. This often comes with an underlying self-important belief that this is in fact enough.

So it turns out report writing is quite the art form, a collection of carefully selected words and phrases to accurately inform parents of their children’s efforts and achievements while always (no matter what the actuality of the situation) providing some sense of hope.

Are you a teacher? What do the comments you write in your reports really mean? Tell us in the comments section below.