Dear Conduct Chart: You Do Not Determine My Child’s Worth

I’ve missed her all day. All day, I have looked forward to picking her up after school and feeling her little arms wrap around my waist with the biggest hug. All day, I have been thinking that if the weather stays this pretty, we’ll play outside when we get home. Maybe we’ll even have time to go to the pool if traffic isn’t too bad. I walk in and see her sitting at the little table, and my heart just floods with pride. For a moment, I watch her undetected. My precious girl. The sweet little upturn of her nose, the bright eyes, the ponytail all askew from a day full of play. In that moment, she is perfect.

Then she sees me, and all hell breaks loose. “Mama, I got on yellow.”


I remember being in second grade. I was in Mrs. Simon’s class in A Hall. I could still find that classroom with my eyes closed, if you asked me to. I remember the smell of the floor polish and the feel of my fingertips on the desk. I remember one day in particular VERY clearly. I was chatting with my friend next to me, and Mrs. Simon asked me to stop. On that particular day, my conversation was just too good to end it there. When she looked away, I defied everything I knew was good and right in my young world, and I continued to talk. Of course I got caught, and I was told to move my clip to from green to yellow.

I remember so clearly that walk of shame to the conduct chart. I remember moving my clip with trembling fingers, knowing that my life was surely over. I was no longer on the “good list,” Christmas was cancelled effective immediately, and I lived in fear for the rest of the school day. I had defied my teacher. I had disobeyed. I was devastated. When my mom finally picked me up that afternoon, she didn’t even HAVE to fuss at me, I was so ashamed of myself. I never, not ONCE in my entire elementary school career, had to move my clip ever again. I am a rule follower. I live a quiet life, I don’t like to rock boats, and I definitely don’t like to defy authority.

And years later, along came my darling girl to shake me to the very foundation.

Now, some of you may be thinking … it’s just yellow, what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that I’ve been dealing with this since she was in Pre-K4. My fiery girl has a will of iron and a mouth to match. Following the status quo is not exactly her forte.

We lucked out in Pre-K3 with an incredible teacher who, in all honesty, no one will ever compare to. Pre-K4 brought me to my knees with the constantly negativity. We started Parent-Child Interaction Therapy with the most amazing doctor, and despite making strides at home and in therapy, school continued to be an issue. Age four was the year of the smiley-face chart, and there were far more frowns than smiles on both her paper and my face.

Kindergarten was better. She had a teacher who cared enough to understand her and work with her but around Christmastime, that dreaded smiley chart came back school-wide and I spent the spring semester slowly spiraling, dreading car line every day, knowing that my child’s worth had been determined yet again by a series of smiley faces.

Now we’re at a new school. The smileys may be gone, but they’ve been replaced by a rainbow color chart spanning from pink at the top all the way down to red.

Since the beginning of first grade, my darling girl has never spent a day at green or above. The smiley faces, the main source of my anxiety, may be gone … but they’ve been replaced by my new nemesis, Roy G. Biv. And here I sit, seeing mostly red, because my child can’t stay on green. Something’s gotta give.

Before we get too far into the school year I’m trying to get myself in check. Trying to remember the good days … trying to remember that the most important thing in the world is feeling those little arms around me, and not the warm tones on the spectrum.

This year I’m doing my best to stop equating my child’s worth to her color on the conduct chart.

And while my child may never reach pink … her favorite color, the color of her bedroom, the color of the sky when there’s a gorgeous sunset, she’s worth more than pink.

She may never have a purple day. Purple, the color of her favorite grape popsicles, the LSU Tigers, or a bouquet of hydrangeas. But she’s worth more than purple.

Maybe she’ll have some blue days, like the sky on those perfect summer afternoons spent at the pool. Blue is beautiful, but she’s worth more than blue.

She is worth more than any combination of green, yellow, and orange.

And while she might end up on red more times than I’m comfortable with before this year is over, I just have to keep telling myself she is worth more than red.

She’s my perfect daughter. And she is worth more than any conduct chart.


  1. This is beautifully written and hits super close to home for me. My daughter sounds just like yours, and we’ve had teachers who worked with her and others who did not. We are still trying to grow her self confidence after a horrible, militant 1st grade teacher who thought her scare tactics should work on everyone. I feel ya mama, I love this article so very much.

  2. As a mother of two and a grandmother of five, I know how upsetting it is for your child to be considered a ‘conduct problem’ in class. BUT: As a teacher of third grade, for more than 30 years, I must defend the teachers. Sometimes a normally well-behaved child makes a mistake, and gets caught, and is embarrassed and must move their clip or change the color on their chart… And it is traumatic! But other children are often not particularly devastated by having their conduct chart show misbehavior. Some students seem immune to the public embarrassment of the behavior chart. And some even seem to take a little perverse delight in making multiple trips to move their clip.

    When you say that your child “needs a teacher who will work with her” I completely understand… As a mother and as a teacher. In class, if you know a particular child is really a good kid but struggles with self control, you still can’t overlook that child’s infractions that are grounds for moving the clip. Because if you do, the other two dozen children in the class will howl “unfair!” at once, and the validity of the entire conduct chart is undermined. I never particularly care for the color charts or the clip moving… But usually it was a school policy… Every teacher would follow the same behavioral program and so I often had no choice.

    I preferred to rely on my own judgment as to whether or not I should “call out” a kid, make a big deal over an infraction, or show a little mercy and turn a blind eye. So many things are at work. Did the child have a bad morning? Is the child facing something difficult at home? Did the child just get rejected on the playground? Is the child ill? I preferred to be able to take those things into account and manage conduct through my own common sense. But like so many other aspects of classroom teaching these days, the teacher does not get to set policy, even in his/hers own classroom.

    • Does the conduct grade count for Honor Roll?? It used to count.
      Some schools have S and U for a grade in conduct up til 3rd grade.
      At school, pupils are learning to get along as a community, taking turns, learning NOT to be first, helping others, learning noise levels are in class groups, etc. As a retired 1st grade teacher of 32 years, I’ve learned that student behave one way at home and another at school. (Ex: kick his mom in the shin when mad, but never tried with me).
      Usually behaviors do improve as the school year passes. While the conduct grade is not who your child is, the expected behaviors of a class community do come together, just as ball players learn their roll and build their team.


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