Honor Roll – Don’t Love It

Honor Roll for Q3 was just released. I looked of course, and this time L’s name was on it. My first reaction was, “Yippee!” and “Atta boy!”. I shared the good news and marinated in my pride for a hot second. Then I did what all the moms do I posted on social media, sent him a ‘nice work’ text, and bragged to his grandparents.

To be honest, though, I don’t love the whole honor roll thing. I have a very love-hate relationship with the honor roll. On the one hand, I get it, let’s reward those students who have worked hard to achieve these grades. But on the other hand, honor roll doesn’t tell the whole story. Many students work just as hard or others and still fall short for many reasons outside of their control.

I want my oldest son to get great grades, for him. I want him to feel the gratification of hard work paying off. This kid is a smart, inquisitive, deep thinker; and if his grades accurately reflected how bright he was, he would consistently be on that list, every damn time. But, he is a chip off the ole momma block; and has ADHD. This adds an extra layer of hard to work through. He can work VERY hard and it doesn’t always pay off. It’s demotivating.


As a grade schooler, I was labeled “motor mouth” by my teachers, and was marked for talking too much. In class, I was “allowed” to stand next to my desk to help with my excessive energy. Academically, I thrived with timed multiplication tasks, and often won spelling bees. This was easy because, for me, it was all about memorization.

But memorization didn’t work in high school. I had to reread lines over and over to absorb the content in my textbooks. Algebra confused me, “so I’m just subtracting on both sides just because” had me lost in the dust. Fractions were just numbers without any meaning. If only someone said, “This is a pizza and it is cut into 8 equal slices, if Joe ate two of the pieces what fraction of the pizza do you have left (that would have made sense to me). I got lost in the intangibles, the unanswered questions, the whys, and the grey areas. When I made an error or misunderstood something I always required a retracing of my steps to figure out where I made the error and what I was thinking to make the mistake, so I didn’t do it again, it was my process, and it still is. The thing is, the school didn’t have the time to wait for me to make all of my mental connections and self corrections. It kept moving forward, while I was still trying to understand the back stories essential to my learning. So I did what I had to do, I fell back on my rote memorization and photographic memory where I could to get me through tests. It wasn’t learning. So, honor roll was not a common occurrence during my high school experience.

It wasn’t until I was in college and university that I could shine. I had fewer distractions, a shorter schedule, and classes that were more of interest to me. It was still tough, but it was there that I figured out how to study, buckle down, and earn high grades. I felt freer to ask hard questions and have things explained in alternate ways that connected the dots for me. Through grad school, I achieved very high marks. 😊 Too bad I hadn’t have that skillset when I was younger. Maybe I would have been offered scholarships. Maybe I wouldn’t still be trying to pay off my student loans… 😏


When L was less than a year old he was speaking in short sentences, and carrying an animal encyclopedia around with him that was about 1/2 his size. He wanted to touch, taste, smell, feel and learn all he could about the world around him. He had a burning desire to engage with the world.

Because of his precocious personality and because I had to work we put him in “school” at the age of 1 1/2. He thrived, so we started him at the age of 4 in Kindergarten. We thought he was ready. He was smart, social, maybe a little sensitive but we knew he could handle it academically and repeating PK4 would be a bore for him.

His attention struggles were first brought to our awareness when he was in Kindergarten. He couldn’t sit still. It’s hard, ya know when you are a curious child who needs to engage with the world by using all senses and by asking questions along the way. It’s hard to just learn by sitting and listening, I struggle with this too.

As an elementary school student, he was a busy kid – moved his body a lot, was a daydreamer, and was slow in his responses when called on in class. He would often miss important details and be called out for not paying attention. He wasn’t lazy, or trying to be rude, he just needed a moment to process what he heard and make the connections with all previously held knowledge and experiences.

At home he showed the same signs of distractibility, slow to respond to a question, or the inability to follow more than one instruction at a time. He was starting to show signs of sadness, we know now because he was feeling misunderstood. I know this feeling, it hurts. We brought him to see a Dr and L was officially diagnosed with ADHD as a middle schooler.

At school, he was placed on a 504 plan, and this helped somewhat. I think the greatest benefit was that the educators could understand him better. He focuses well on subjects he’s interested in, and not so much on the rest. On state testing, he always places higher than others his age, he has been placed in honors courses and has been highly complimented by his teachers. But, he can get tripped up on a test, the same way I would, when clarification was needed; or miss an important assignment because he’s still processing the last bit of info he heard. He’s me.

More Info Please

I recently saw an episode of Abbott Elementary, it’s a pretty entertaining program similar in style to The Office or Parks and Recreation. Anyhoo, the episode was discussing how kids will get lost in the details, especially in a class of bright kids. The teacher asked a question about how many turkeys were in an image presented to them. But a legit question was asked by a student, “Are any of the turkeys pregnant?”. It wasn’t meant to be funny, it was just an important variable that needed to be accounted for.

Advantaged Disadvantaged

ADHD kids, kids with learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, emotional challenges, lack of food, stable home, and more will be less likely to find their names on the honor roll. It does not mean they are not smart or not capable. A very likely reason is that they are not being supported at school appropriately, whether it be due to funding, lack of resources, or lack of training in identification of learning challenges. They may try really really hard but always fall short of the coveted honor roll. On the flip side, families of privilege may have the resources to pay for outside extra help, an advantage many others may not have.

Honor roll has a way of lifting those up who are on it, and bringing those down who are not. Of course, some students or families may not care one bit. But for those who don’t make it on there. I see you. You are not less than those who find themselves on the list. It’s something to strive for but do not let it define your worth.

Let’s put less emphasis on making honor roll and more of an emphasis on being a kind-hearted well rounded person. I encourage parents, to celebrate their child for working hard or overcoming challenges or obstacles or even just for making progress.

Honor roll doesn’t tell the whole story and it certainly doesn’t help the morale of those kids who feel less than others because their name wasn’t in the spotlight. Does it really highlight who has worked the hardest? Students come to school with different advantages and prior learning experiences. There are intrinsic and extrinsic barriers that are standing in the way for a lot of students from achieving honor roll just as their are advantages afforded to some students and not others.

So What’s the Answer?

There is no simple solution on how to honor those who work hard and achieve high marks and honor those who work just as hard or harder and still don’t quite make it. Our kiddos are more than a name on a list.

In the meantime, I encourage my son to work hard, if I know he has put in the time and effort, given it his best shot, and doesn’t make it on the honor roll – I’ll still recognize his hard work. I’ll still congratulate him because I know the extra effort he needs to overcome his challenges. Lastly, I’ll remind him that he is more than a GPA, more than a number.

-Best, McMomma

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