When my son changed schools in year 3, a teacher called to discuss his old school report card comments.

“What do you mean?,” I asked her. “He’s totally normal, nothing interesting in his school report.”

Her answer: “You need to read between the lines.”

At that moment I understood. Sometimes teachers write report cards so they don’t offend parents. They don’t want to tell you your child is lazy or rude or stubborn directly. They try to be subtle. They try to hint.

Parents should also know that problems in the classroom are evident from the comments in the report card – but you need to know what to look for. That’s what I had completely missed. The issues teachers can’t discuss openly may be both negative and positive.

In our case, almost every teacher said our son was “helpful”. Which actually meant that he was finishing the work easily and was being used as a classroom assistant rather than given extension exercises. He was being rewarded for finishing fast, rather than for completing tasks with detail. It’s a habit we’re still trying to break three years later.

Without that phone call, I wouldn’t have had a clue that anything was wrong. It’s as if teachers have a secret code that only they understand.

So ahead of report card season, we asked all the teachers we know to decode those school report comments. What do they actually mean?

Enthusiastic responses

This comment means your child is constantly calling out the answer. Or interrupting other kids. They are generally terrible at waiting their turn.

Working towards

This little gem is common on report cards. It’s used instead of  “can’t” all the time. For example. Alison is working towards sitting still in class. Teachers say the child may not actually be working towards sitting still at all. Take it as “Alison can’t sit still”. Parents should speak with the teacher when this comment comes up to ensure the student gets help to complete the skill.

School report comments
The children are “working towards” walking to class nicely. Photo: Bigstock

Very active

Similar to working towards, this is a nice way to say that your child can’t stop moving. They may have issues with concentration, motivation or sensory perception.

Chatty student

Yes, that means your child is a motor mouth.

Spirited child

This one means your child is stubborn and won’t do what they are told to do by the teacher.

School report comments
In their school report comments it says they were “spirited children”. Photo: Bigstock

Needs explicit support regulating their emotions

This one is often common for preschool-aged children, but also for early primary school years. It means the child cries all the time.

Needs explicit support to express themselves verbally

If you see this one, it generally means your child pushes or hits other children.

Capacity / Potential

Teachers told us they often use this one for students who are lazy. For example “Alison has the potential to finish the year on a high note”. (But she won’t because she is too lazy or too busy daydreaming.)

Demonstrate more personal responsibility

This report card comment also means your child is not doing the work they should be doing and you need to find out why.

Needs to be capable of making his own decisions OR  Peers have a strong influence on his behaviour

This means your child is a follower and getting into big trouble on a regular basis.

A leader in the class BUT I’d like to see her influence in a positive way

In other words, your child is being bossy and telling the other kids what to do. Sometimes they are leading other kids astray.

School report comments
He’s a spirited child, a leader, but not always in a positive way. Photo: BigStock


School report comments regarding rushing work should be investigated. For example “I am encouraging Alison not to rush to finish first”. It could mean that your child is careless and disorganised. It could also be a sign of a very bright child who is bored with the work and skips straight to the answer without thinking. You need to find out exactly why they are rushing.

A “helpful” child.

Helpful children have finished their work to the satisfaction of the teacher. They are often used as classroom assistants. But that is time when they are not learning anything. This comment likely means your child is finishing the classwork too easily and needs extension.  They may need specific gifted and talented extension programs. 

School report cards are due out in the next few weeks. We wish all the kids and their parents good luck.




Alison Godfrey has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 20 years. She loves coffee, wine, skiing and spending time with her husband, two children and their dog. But she's still not sure about the cat. He's pretty cranky.

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