Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parent conferences have the potential to be terrible or awesome. There may be crying, screaming, yelling, praise of students or even a worthwhile conversation. It might be the first opportunity you have to tell a student and his/her advocate (parent, guardian, aunt, uncle, older sibling, you get the idea) what's what and that you care about them and are trying to help them. They can also be a waste of time; it depends on you and it depends on the parent involved.

Last year the several hours before conferences began were kind of surreal. It struck me as strange that I was so young and inexperienced, having quite a lot of trouble in the classroom, and yet a bunch of parents were about to show up, ask how their child was doing and perhaps even request advice from me on what they can do as a parent to help their student. At this point in the fall I didn't feel like I had much more to give. I was run down, exhausted and very irritated with the majority of my students- probably not the best combination if you want to have productive meetings with their parents.

This year I looked forward to conferences. I felt as though I could really offer some feedback on what the child needs to be doing in order to pass my class. I have a much better understanding of what I'm expecting of students this year, which makes it much easier to relate to parents. As a result of the retreat I went on a little while ago, I was still a bit leery of trying to suggest what parents can do at home to better support their child, but did my best and had some good conversations.

From what I can tell, parent conferences in the city are much, much different from those in the suburbs. The only card our parents really have to play is their parent card- they are the parent, are doing their best with their child and know what's best for their child. That's fine; they should play that card. It means they are advocating for their child.

UNlike in the suburbs, the teachers (even brand new ones) are better-paid and have more formal education than many parents walking through the door. That can be pretty intimidating to the parent. Many of our parents also did not have the best go of things when they were in school, which means that when they come to a conference they often see it as another confrontation with another teacher. Some are in the country illegally and are very nervous to interact with any government institution, including schools. I've not been on the teaching end of suburban parent conferences, but the reports I get from my friends and colleagues back home are that many parents try to play the "I'm much older, wiser, and more powerful than you so you will listen to what I have to say and do for my child everything I demand" card. The degree to which this card is played by parents in that setting is probably variant on a lot of factors, but it's not been present, let alone come out, in the three sets of parent conferences I've had in the city.

My parents this year varied from crying in disappointment to nearly crying when their beaming student translated my over-the-top praise of their child. One aunt very angry at her niece came in, scolded her niece, asked, "Why you got a problem with this teacher? Just do the work and then you can ignore the teachers you don't like" and was out the door in less than a minute. The conversations I had with a couple I think will help and with others I can already tell were loads of hot air. The point is, however, that I have at least two students genuinely trying harder, and I think this year I know how to help them run with that just a bit better than I did last year.

Tips for Conferences:
  • sit around a table so that you're on the same playing field as everyone in attendance
  • have copies of the students' grades ready to hand to parents
  • type out a letter with your contact information and any updates for your class
  • when using a translator, look at the parent when you're speaking. A lot of people look at the translator, which alienates the parent. They might be able to understand some of what you're saying, and they'll definitely pick up better on your inflection

Today's Wine: Monte Degli Angeli Monferrato Pinot Noir 2008. The 2006 got a raving review on Snooth.com. I preferred this one to a lot of Pinot Noirs out there because many are really light reds and I prefer medium to full-bodied reds. This bottle wasn't too light and was really easy to drink. The label talks about a lot of fruit flavor, but I didn't find it that way.

1 comment:

  1. Conferences are tough. My biggest struggle is to stand my ground and not doubt myself. I kind of get stage fright and a little tongue-tied when a parent is sitting there in front of me. I always want to keep the conversation positive which is hard when it is with the parent of a difficult child.