It’s conference week in my school district, which means that I’ll meet with all 31 of my students’ parents. That’s 31 conferences, right? Nope. Some parents can’t stand to be in the same room with each other so in some cases I hold separate conferences for mom and dad.
Conferences start before school, then I teach for about 5 hours, then they resume after school. Yesterday I held 14 conferences and spent twelve and a half hours at school, with about a 25 minute lunch break (that’s normal) and about a 40 minute dinner break. I have a conference scheduled to begin at 7:30 this morning, then I will do it again (but there are only 9 scheduled for today). We do this twice a year.
In between these conferences I complete and share formal progress reports for all of the students, and I make numerous phone calls as things come up for students. I’m not complaining, I’m seeking to educate.
I know that the conference time is short, in most cases around 20 minutes, but if you do the math you can see why. I also am not planning to use this time to discuss the relative merits/limitations of the curriculum. That is a separate conversation that we need to schedule for a separate time, and honestly, it’s better suited for discussion with an administrator. My district has adopted particular curriculum. As a teacher in my district I teach that curriculum. You are welcome to challenge it with the administration and even the school board if you feel strongly enough. Personally I’m not teaching anything that I feel is damaging to your children, and I am not likely to change it because you don’t particularly care for it.
One issue I’ve been hearing over and over is about the way the math is being taught. I know it’s different than when you went to school. I know it’s confusing to you and you’re frustrated that you are unable to help your child with the homework. We’ve talked about this since meet the teacher night. Your child is learning in spite of your frustration. Demonstrate some flexibility of thinking and some open mindedness,and your child will learn from your example. Eventually she’ll be able to do the math the way you were taught. We’re just laying in some foundation work that you (and I) didn’t get in school. We really believe that it will help her understanding of math, and that she won’t attend her own children’s conferences some day announcing, as so many parents do, “I can’t do math.”
Please know that I enjoy and admire your children, but they aren’t perfect. They have quirks and behaviors that sometimes distract themselves and others from learning. I share these with you in order to enlist your support as we work to help your child learn self control and independence. I’m not picking on you or your child. I want all of my students to be at their very best and to learn as much as possible so that they can be successful in life.
Parents, I promise you, in most cases your child’s teachers are not the enemy. I’m certainly not. I work very hard to ensure that each child is getting what he or she needs, but please understand that I work with many other students in addition to yours. I offer individual attention to students every day of the school year, but I also have obligations beyond teaching. There are lesson plans to be created, work to be assessed, reports to be completed, children to be evaluated, trainings to be attended, continuing education to be completed, and so much more. I know that there are some of you who would like your child’s teacher to give up his or her 25 minute lunch or stay after school tutoring your child, but sometimes we’re simply not available. Oh, and we have families too.
If I sound like I’m ranting, I apologize. I can’t tell you how many wonderful families I have had the privilege to work with over the years, and how fantastic my current group of students and parents is. This note isn’t for those people. They’re doing everything right. Here’s how to do parent/teacher conferences (as demonstrated by some of my favorite families):
1. Be flexible with your appointment time if at all possible. Many people have difficult work schedules and multiple children in school. I really work hard to accommodate everyone’s schedules. If you don’t care what afternoon you come on, it makes scheduling a lot easier for me.
2. Come with an open mind. Try to remember that your goal and my goal are the same. We both want what is best for your child based on his or her abilities, limitations, gifts, needs, and so on. I know all students are not alike, and I work hard to help each student grow and learn.
3. Let me be the bad guy if there are issues. Yes, I want your support. Yes, I want you to hold your child accountable for his or her learning and behavior, but don’t go overboard. These are kids, and they’re your kids. Be proud of them and love on them, then correct them. Don’t let them play you, though. They’ll throw anyone under the bus if they think they’re in trouble. All kids lie. It doesn’t make you a bad parent.
4. Be prepared to leave with some homework. I’m going to enlist your help at this conference. I will suggest some things that I’d like you to try at home with your child in order to help him or her. It may be that I ask you to read aloud with him or allow her to cook with you to practice measuring and following directions. I won’t ask anything crazy of you. I want your time with your child to be loving, fun, and productive. You’re busy. I know. I’m a parent too.
5. Don’t be upset if I tell you something you don’t want to hear. Ok, be upset, but don’t be upset with me. Your child may have stopped turning in work, or may have some indications of a possible learning disability or attention issue. Your child may have been distracting others. I don’t make things up about kids. I don’t have to. If I share something that is uncomfortable or difficult, I’m sorry. I don’t enjoy sharing bad news, but I do often have ideas about how to approach whatever the problem is. Remember point two, please come with an open mind.
Want extra credit? Bring a small gift. I am always delighted and surprised when families present me with some small token of appreciation. This morning I received a tray of homemade cookies. It’s a lovely gesture that is much appreciated. Even tissues for the class are appreciated.
Tomorrow I head back for my final conference for this quarter. I get to do it all again in the spring. I’m not ready to think that far ahead. Right now I’m just plain tired.