First term; ‘James is trying.’ Second term; ‘James is always trying.‘ Well that doesn’t sound too bad; all a parent could ask really. Final term; ‘James has been very trying‘ Oh…! This was one of my mother’s small repertoire of jokes that never failed to amuse we kids.

Receiving a bad report of our own would not have been so funny. Mind you, my parents would have been more upset by ‘trying behaviour’ than by low marks. This indicates a certain lack of expectation … academically speaking. It was assumed that my brother would work on our farm, and that my sister and I would marry men with bigger and better farms. None of this came to pass I’m happy to say.

Of course we were very well mannered and our report cards included comments such as ‘a pleasure to teach’ and ‘always co-operative and friendly’. 😍 Admittedly, most country children were the same.

Our family’s favourite comment from a teacher appeared on one of my sister’s primary school report; ‘Robyn is inclined to woolgather.

The term resonated with us, because we used to collect wool from barbed wire fences to make hair for our dolls.

My siblings and I were regularly praised for our excellent general knowledge. One reason for this was that my father was always telling us to be quiet and listen to the news. Also, in those pre television days we read our way through the Arthur Mees encyclopedias, the doctor’s book (secretly) the Weekly Times farming newspaper, and anything else we could lay our hands on. And finally, we each had that magical ticket; a library card.

There are those comments in a school report which begin in a positive tone, but take a turn for the worse;

DOMESTIC SCIENCE – Pauline should be a credit student…but she cannot cook. I won’t go into this except to say that it was extremely unfair.

My partner Rob was privately educated, and I must say his school reports were far more detailed and considered than mine.

Now my Rob is a workaholic, perfectionist type, so I took some pleasure in reading that he needed to apply himself, and that;

Robert can be rather silly at times’. This become a catchphrase in our lives after we discovered his old school reports among his late mother’s papers.

I suspect he had too many ‘activities’ to concentrate on classwork. My word, that Esperanto has been helpful in his life.

I didn’t realize boys played softball.

Thank goodness there was no report on a student’s ability in physical education, as least not at my school. I once accidentally ‘dropped’ a team-mate with my softball bat (well she was standing far too close). And when my side fielded I was placed so far away I was nearly back home!

As to my activities, well in grade six there was a generous comment about my playing of the button accordion for the morning hymn; ‘Awake Thy Soul‘. Upon my soul no-one ever played an accordion so badly.

The recurring theme in my reports was the hopelessness of my handwriting, from primary school right though secondary;

The following comments were from my English and Social Studies teachers respectively in 1965, third year high school;

Well I blame the 1950s school system for trying (unsuccessfully) to make a left-handed child use her right hand! Of course, I had the last laugh. I have barely picked up a pen in the last ten years.

Rob and I giggled together reading our old reports during a recent decluttering exercise. His 1964 report had a comment from Headmaster Mr Oats saying, ‘Robert’s attention span is too short and his hair is too long. Both issues need to be addressed!’

However, we decided it was time for them to go. Do we really want someone smirking over our sad maths scores when we are dead and gone? I don’t think so! 😨

School report cartoon

There is some irony in the above cartoon, because it was when we started using letters instead of numbers in mathematics that I lost the plot. If only I could have dropped algebra and taken more French classes! I have never felt the need to solve an equation, but there have been many occasions when my French vocabulary has let me down.

Rob’s reports were much harder to tear up than my own. That’s because his had fancy cloth covers. Mine were just thin cardboard, probably made at the Burnie pulp mill. 😟

Tearing up our school reports.

There were no careers advisors when I was finishing high school, and no parent-teacher meetings as far as I recall. I ventured into the adult world completely without direction. Rob went off to university with no more idea of what he wanted to do than I did.

And yet, there were a couple of remarks in my final assessment that stayed with me, providing a spark of hope that one day I might find my ‘place’. I sincerely thank the teachers who saw things in an otherwise undistinguished student and bothered to mention them. By a circuitous route, I eventually found my way; perhaps not to great success, but to fulfilment, which is far more important.

Some people have expressed horror that Rob and I so casually ‘tore up our past’. Well, the reports were interesting to me from a social history aspect, but at this point in our lives we are more interested in the present…and the future.

FOOTNOTE – Here is a student’s primary school report for English, from 2018. How different that breakdown and analysis of a subject is.

School report from 2018


  1. Oh Pauline So familiar my hand writing is appalling as well and I blame half learning the old copperplate and being changed to cordcusive. However both my brothers have horrible writing as well so we decided its because we are so smart our brain works faster than our hands.
    I too failed at maths once the dreaded algerba came along.I challenged my teacher /principal that if they proved to me how it may ever be of use I may listen. It was only a couple of years ago I needed to use in as part of a knitting pattern that I figured it out . I was really wanting to tell Bruce but sadly he is no longer with us.
    Tim went to Friends as well he was a boarder from age 10. I notice Rob was a Scout .Tim was kicked out of Scouts because he and some other boys walked over the Argyle St over bridge on the outside of the structure.
    He also claims never to have met a Quaker.
    Cheers Jen

    • Pauline

      Yes, well changing to cordcursive didn’t help, Jen. My main problem was smudging the ink before we switched to biros. I’ll have to ask Rob about that overbridge. And no, Rob doesn’t seem to know any more about Quakerism than I do. 😍 I can only cope with French knitting, so I doubt any algebra will be called for!

  2. Love the photo of torn up reports – how cathartic AND if the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body then left-handers must be in their right minds.

    • Pauline

      Yes, well I have a feeling Einstein may have been left handed. 😎 Editor Des has been home schooled, so algebra was certainly not on the curriculum!

  3. Had cause to smile several times reading the above. I confess I destroyed my own senior school reports pdq after leaving school – just so no potential employer could ever see them! Only positive comments were that I was good at sport – usually followed by a damning report such as ‘a pity Marcia doesn’t apply the same enthusiasm for her school work’!!!

  4. Pauline

    Well Marcia, you certainly made up for it later. 😍

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