Not bad for a fat girl


Do’s and Don’ts of Parent Teacher Conferences

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.

What NOT to do.

What NOT to do.

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.





The Evolution of the Report Card

Thank goodness, my report cards are done! All thirty of them, with their multitude of boxes to complete and their various test scores to enter. Then there are the STANDARDS. Math is not merely math. It’s not even number sense, geometry, and so on. It’s a long list of skills, each with it’s own value to be assigned. Oh for the good old days.

report card 1

Old school, like mom’s.

I remember seeing my mother’s report card as a child and thinking it was so small. There was hardly anything written on it. The subjects were listed along with the appropriate quarters. In the tiny boxes were numbers – 86, 94, 92, and so on. Those were mother’s grades. If she had a 78% average in math, so be it, that was her grade. Her parents would be upset and she would study harder (this is hypothetical- mother was an excellent student). There were also grades for items like handwriting, citizenship, and deportment. The teacher may have written a short comment in perfect script, but that was about it.

My own report cards were quite different. They still had all the subjects listed, but there were no numbers on the report, other than the attendance records. Everything was scored on an O/S/N basis. I had mostly O’s, for outstanding, and several S+ marks too (satisfactory, of course). N was a mark I never received. Horror, to receive a needs improvement in elementary school. My teachers wrote chipper paragraphs about how delightful I was, and they thanked my parents for sending me to school. What I wouldn’t give to do THOSE report cards!

When I started my career, our report cards were a mix of the two. We still assigned the O/S/N scores in each area, but we also gave out academic letter grades, plus a breakdown of skill abilities, which were assigned a slash, a plus, or an x.

Similar to those used early in my teaching career. Don't get me started about the misuse of the effect/affect on this document.

Similar to those used early in my teaching career. Don’t get me started about the misuse of the term effect/affect on this sample document.

Go figure. This was a complex document, and it took half of a parent/teacher conference to explain it.

Then, along came the new report cards, which were connected to the online gradebook. One might think this would be a great time saver, but one would be mistaken. Sure there are some nice features. The days of manually figuring grades are long past, and the scores automatically populate the report card, but now there are twice as many (at least) categories requiring not only some type of score, but explanation to parents. We have entered the era of the two sided report card. The slash, plus, x system has been replaced by a 1,2,3 system, that most people understand better, so that’s a positive, but there are simply too many categories.

As a parent I want to know how my child is doing overall, then how he or she is doing in each subject area. If she’s struggling in math, please tell me what I can do to help her. Should we be studying types of polygons or memorizing multiplication facts or working on subtraction word problems? That information isn’t clearly conveyed in this extensive document. What it does contain is a lot of jargon that I, as a parent, don’t really understand. It’s just too much.

In my experience, parents of fourth graders want to know a few basic things about their kids as they relate to school. 

1. Does he have friends? Most parents already know the answer to this one, but for those who aren’t sure it’s vitally important that they know.

2. Does she behave herself and do her work? This is of paramount importance, because it frames everything that comes after. Most parents want their kids to try hard and do well, but if they can’t have both they want them to try hard. Also, if a child is doing poorly, it may be that they aren’t applying themselves. If this is your child, I promise that if the little cherub would listen to the directions and then follow them, he or she would learn more and do better.

3. How is she doing in the main subject areas- reading, writing, and math? These are the cornerstones of later learning, and parents know it. They see the homework, but they often don’t have a benchmark for where their child falls in terms of their learning. They want to know if they’re doing ok.

4. How can I help him? This is a genuine heartfelt concern. Parents want to help their kids succeed. It is hardwired in most of us. They want concrete ideas and they want to be acknowledged for the things they are doing right. They may not hear it from anyone but us. Just showing up for the conference is worthy of praise, it shows commitment to education and making the child a priority.

5. Will my child be alright? Maybe she will and maybe she won’t. We have data and test scores and years of experience working with similar students, and we will do whatever it takes to get your child moving in the right direction if he or she is not currently making adequate progress. We are on your child’s side, always. Some children need a little extra encouragement, other children need a myriad of interventions to help them learn. Let’s work together to find  out what is going on and what will best help your child.

If we could design an instrument that addresses these five areas without all the extra hoopla, I think we would be doing everyone a favor. Well, everyone but the companies that profit from these overly complex reporting systems. In most cases, I want to just write, “Don’t worry Momma (or Daddy, Grandma, Aunt Debbie, or whomever is raising that child), your child is doing just fine.”