This time of year is both my favorite and least. I love the focus on “thankfulness” at this time of year and starting to prepare for the quickly approaching holiday season. I don’t love the holiday stress that is sometimes lurking around the corner and I’m not crazy about parent/teacher conferences. That is…the conference where I am the parent.
Honestly, I enjoy conferences when I am wearing my teacher bonnet. As an experienced teacher, I spend weeks doing assessments and creating a thorough collection of evidence that paints a picture of each students’ current academic skills. I have specific comments for each child about their learning skills & strategies that parents (and I) will work on to take the child to the next level that meets (or exceeds) expectations. As educators, we want the conference to be educational. We want parents to get as much information from this brief (20 minutes) meeting as possible.
Here’s where well-intentioned colleagues sometimes take a wrong turn. In an attempt to touch on everything, teachers ( I have been guilty of this too) forget that one of the most important things that parents need from us at the conference, is to know that we truly like and value their child. They want to know that we see just some of the gifts that they see in their child. They want to leave feeling comfortable with the idea that I am spending a significant part of the day with their most precious being.
Although we as teachers need to point out areas that needs practice, we have a responsibility to make sure that we present a balanced report that share strengths and progress in each student. I didn’t understand any of this until I was a parent. I am not saying that all teachers must have children to have this understanding, but for me…I had no clue previously to being a mother. Not just a mother either, but the mother of an intense, bright, quirky, sometimes challenging and always gifted boy.
I go to my son’s conference next week and I am already feeling nervous and apprehensive. Although this year is going much better, there is still too much focus on his problems than potential. From past experiences, I know that some teachers find it a stretch to move beyond the challenges and spend just part of the time focusing on his celebrations. Last year, we were constantly reminded about his “little effort” that he put into his work. We tried to remind the staff that we saw the “little effort” as a concern too, but not in the same way. We knew that it took my TBP next to no energy to complete the assignments and that was really one of the biggest problems. When we brought up the need for more challenging work, we were shown work samples where the handwriting wasn’t “perfect” and told that clearly there was more practiced needed. I can only hope that this teacher understands that handwriting is just that…handwriting. It is not a demonstration of ideas or a snapshot of knowledge of subject. I can’t help but wonder if this is unfair to all boys that haven’t played school for years before ever entering a school building.
One of the aspects that I believe makes my perspective unique, is being both a mother and a teacher. Because of this, I am more aware than ever that parents are looking for more than just work samples from this meeting. I plan on starting with strengths and progress, moving to a few areas of focus (which could be academic or social), and explaining strategies that we can all use to help support continued progress. I hope that each parent feels more assured leaving the conference.
I adore my son, but I know that a child like mine takes more “energy” than the typical, complying, eager to please student. In some attempt to “soften the blow,” I try to give a nice holiday gift or bring a coffee when we meet with the teacher. I’m not sure if the gift is supposed to slightly make up for her time with my kid or…me 🙂