Monday, May 10, 2021

When My Ableist Teacher Used My Report Card to Praise My Parents

721 words
6 minute read

People with disabilities often get the message that our accomplishments are not our own.  That we should be grateful for our parents' care and thank them for our accomplishing anything of value.

This was definitely the case on my fourth grade report card.  Now, fourth grade was not a good time for me.  My teacher was super ableist and no one noticed my slide into depression.

A few months into the year, my grades came home to my parents.  I had the equivalent of As and Bs in most areas.  The areas I had what amounted to Cs were in places I struggled the most due to CP:  Physical Education, Reading, Completing Work on Time and Organization.  (Class Participation was also average as it was hard to feel confident when I faced ableism everywhere I went: home, school, out in the world.)

For a bit of history, this was 1990.  The ADA was passed in July.  This report card came out at the end of November.  My teacher was older, near retirement age, and it's very possible that I was the first student she ever taught who had a disability.

Her disability attitudes were super unevolved and they show in the way she used the GOALS / COMMENTS section of my report card:


Tonia has done above to good average work this quarter.  Her creative writing shows imagination, much effort and ability to express herself.  

Social Studies has high test scores.  Tonia's effort in every area is to be complimented.  Her parents strong support have contributed to completing work and top accomplishments.  As she grows older, she will be very grateful for your care.  Socially, she has many friends.

One goal I'd like to recommend for her is that she raise her hand more frequently, or that she ask the kids by her to help her get organized.  She needs to take the initiative to get herself together more.


This was not my parents' report card.  This was my report card.  But it's clear that if my teacher had to grade them, they would have gotten As.  None of this above-to-good-average stuff.  (The majority of my grades were As and Bs!  What the heck?)

My teacher praised my effort, but gave my parents the credit for my "top accomplishments."  The push to be grateful for the basics started early.  And I have to say, today?  It's hard to feel anything but trauma, having been raised in a house where I struggled to access basic needs, where I was abused, and where this continued into adulthood.

Her assessment that I had "many friends" was just plain false.  It's a mistake many nondisabled adults make.  They think if they see kids helping the disabled kid, they must all be friends.

But the truth is?  I had one friend.  One friend who I played with at her house.  One friend I hung out with outside of school.  That was it.

Also, she started out with one goal for me and ended up not able to resist adding another.  What elementary school aged child just knows when they aren't organized enough?  Just knows, "Hey, I should ask for help with this?"

I'll give you a hint.  It's not the one who was also in tons of trouble at home for accepting any help that was deemed unnecessary by nondisabled adults in my life.


[Image: Tonia, in November of 1990, holding a pink balloon.  She's on her knees, which are set wide apart for balance.  Her crutches are on the floor on either side of her.]

I was 9 years old.  

An actual child, who wore pink nightgowns with teddy bears on them that said 100% CUDDLY.  Yet, all around me were adults that expected me to have this innate sense of how to navigate life and the world, without adequate emotional support.

My accomplishments were mine.  And I deserved more than a grudging acknowledgement by my teacher.  We don't deserve to be pushed into gratefulness for subpar care when we are still children.

But this is what many disabled people (children and adults) face on a daily basis.


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  1. Ugh. I'm sorry you had to go through that. And I hope you have space, now, to heal from that abuse.

    1. Thanks. I do have space now, and safety, but healing is a process. Writing and being honest about it helps.

  2. Tonia,
    Like you, I’ve had to put up with this way too much. When I graduated from high school people were heaping praise on my parents. It made me mad. While my parents helped me get to that milestone, it wasn’t either of them who were graduating high school. Thanks for writing.

    1. For sure! That was YOUR milestone. People generally don't heap praise on parents of nondisabled kids upon graduation...

    2. I’m so sorry that happened to you, Grace! It’s very nice that your parents helped you, but a) that’s their job, and b) unless they went to high school instead of you, YOU were the one graduating, because YOU had put in the work to do so! People should have focused on that: that you had achieved something, with or without your parents’ assistance.

      (For the record, something similar happened to me when I graduated from my all-special-ed high school: the principal congratulated the parents on their accomplishment—of...getting their disabled kids through high school, I guess?—but didn’t mention the graduates’ achievements at all! Fortunately for me, I was so used to the school’s nonsense, I just laughed at it. But I still, more than half my life later, feel horrible for any of the students who were waiting to hear their principal congratulate them on all their hard work, and instead heard him give credit only to their folks.)

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Tonia. As a parent, I do see these comments in our kindergarten son’s report cards. I know in our case it is expressed with good intentions by his teachers. But something for us to be mindful about as he gets older - to let him own and to celebrate his earned successes.

    1. Definitely. Thanks for reading and for the comment.


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