"Daniel clearly loves penguins and should write about them as often as possible. He is always noticeably calmer afterwards."
That's the report I'd like to write about this puzzling Year 8 boy. I can't, of course, because it sounds mad. I'm trying to avoid the fall-back "working hard and making steady progress". It saves time, though, because it bats away the mystery children, and no one ever objects to it.
There should be a website for people who used to get that cliche on their school reports. Maybe you'd get a free password to steadyprogress.org, where you could chat to others who'd had it written about them. I bet there are some quietly interesting people in this vast category - some of life's imponderables. Maybe their parents found them a bit baffling, too.
The trouble is, banning "steady progress" from my reports has made me face up to how little I know some of my pupils. I mean, how can you really tell how "steady" someone is? Take Shireen in Year 7. She's as quiet as a lake at night, but her mother told me how worried she gets about spelling tests.
When I talked to Shireen about it, there was a far-away pain in her eyes.
But talking to her has just made her more of a mystery. And she's in such a noisy class. A "shadow-eyed scholar among fresh-air puppies". I wonder what would happen if I actually wrote that.
"Hi Emily. Sorry to interrupt but have you seen the teabags?"
Mr Gorgeous! Not now, please. Don't make me spend this free period mentally running my hands through your hair. I've got far too much to do.
"Erm, no. II erm."
"Don't worry, I'll find them."
"Looking for the Lapsang, Jon? They're kept in this drawer here."
"Ah, lovely! Thanks, Melinda."
"Poor Emily. She's not exactly a practical soul."
Ah shuddup, Sleam. Oh no. What if she fancies Mr Gorgeous? And was his "Ah, lovely!" for the teabags, or secretly for her? Damn. And I sent him teabagless away. Come on, Shark. You know Melinda is arse-clenchingly accurate about everything. Maybe that was unconscious teabag reflex, rather than a conscious teabag flirtation. Better keep an eye on her, though, as well as on Marian Frond. You never know.
Even colleagues I've known for years can be quite hard to read. So how can I know the truth about those silent children I see for a few hours a week?
Well, I'm just going to write what I know: "Daniel writes well when he chooses a subject that interests him, such as penguins. This also improves his concentration."
It still sounds slightly mad. But it's true. And I bet it's news to his parents.
More from Emily in a fortnight