Being on the Other Side of the Teacher Conference Desk


I waffled for the last 2 weeks whether or not write this essay of a post.  This is a very tough post to write as I like to keep things pretty simple here at OC most of the time, but I feel like maybe it is needed – if for nothing else than to get my thoughts out in the open.  So here goes…

As a parent, I am AFRAID to go to my own child’s parent teacher conference this week.

I have lost sleep over it and am seriously dreading the day that has been circled on my calendar for the last 2 weeks when I received his first quarter report card.

Perhaps a little prior knowledge can explain why I am feeling this way:

  • My son is currently in 2nd grade.  I have an older daughter who is already a junior in college, so this isn’t my first rodeo.
  • He still loves school.  Academics are good.  He reads well at home and math is his forte.
  • He is immature for his age for sure.  And that translates to frequent talking infractions, though really nothing serious.

With that said – I assume everything at school is going pretty well, right?  Some minor behavior infractions from time to time and according to the benchmark scores at the beginning of the year, I assume he is in the right spot.

We review his papers nightly from his folder – some have scores, some are daily work and do not have anything on them.  We practice math flash cards.  We read with him every night before bed.

Then, I receive his report card and it shows that he is not performing on grade level in a couple areas and his behavior is not up to par either.  I look at it in shock.  And my husband expects me to explain to him what it means since I am a teacher and I should know.

This isn’t a doom and gloom story, nor will I point fingers and say that the teacher isn’t doing a good job or that my child is an angel (I know better).  I even already know the terminology and what to explicitly ask about during the conference, so that doesn’t make me even flinch a little.

But what I want to share is this:  If I – as a teacher myself who has done hundreds of conferences with parents – is feeling trepidation about attending this meeting, you start to realize why other parents who have no school ties at all become no-shows.

I like to believe that 99.9% of the time, parents want their children to succeed.  And 99.9% of the time, teachers want that same child to succeed and believe they can.

But it’s the lack of open communication in between the 2 parties that creates the unfamiliar.  The unfamiliar makes people feel uncomfortable and afraid.  If it were a meeting with the bus driver who I see and say hello to every day at the bus stop, I would feel less anticipation than I do for the impending parent teacher conference this week.

Parents BIGGEST fear is that the teacher will question the parents’ parenting ability.  Which is silly, right?

But FEAR is “False Evidence Appearing Real.”

In my mind, I start thinking about how he is eating well, he goes to bed at a set time each night, he is clean, regularly has doctor and dentist checkups, a safe place to live, is modeled appropriate behavior on a daily basis, only plays video games on the weekend, has a family that tells him how much he is loved daily, and on and on.  I am questioning how I played a role in his not-so-stellar report card.  Worse, I am afraid the teacher is going to look to me for those answers.

And all of this happens in the 14 days between receiving the report card – and the scheduled conference date.

What a scary place to be.

Now – as I am one to always look for solutions to help make the situation better, I have a couple ideas that I feel would have helped to keep this panic from rising up inside of me – and maybe it would help other parents from feeling the same way and increase conference night attendance rates.  It is never too late to start implementing these suggestions even if you already had your fall conferences.

Create SOME way to communicate with parents on a weekly, if not daily manner.  It could be a newsletter that is sent home at the beginning of the week, a class website, a Facebook Group for parents (depending on school rules), a texting service, or a BCC email to the parents.  I even love the idea of using your phone to do quick impromtu videos throughout the day and uploading to parents. It can show some things you are working on, you talking to parents about something that is coming up, or explain how a situation went down during class.  Just you speaking on camera is a million times better than reading it in an agenda book.  Tone is really hard to convey in writing. I know.  I have been nailed by parents for this in the past myself as my tone was not clear.  A quick 30 second video would have made all the difference.  And taken less time to construct too!

Don’t assume that parents who are looking through those papers being sent home know what they mean, or how heavily that assignment plays into the grade.  Being transparent on how many grades are/will be taken and which “count” seem obvious to you, but parents really don’t know.  To the point, they may not even realize what is Language Arts vs Reading materials.  I even get email notifications when his online progress book is updated and I was still taken aback.  The report card grade should never be a surprise.

Another wonderful idea is to send home a questionnaire for the parents to fill out and return a couple days before the conference.  The paper could have questions such as “Were you surprised about _______’s report card?  What items in particular?”  “What do you feel _______ really excels in at home:  reading, math, science, or something else?” “What do you believe could _______ work on more?”  “What other concerns do you have?”   Those may be tough letters to have returned as you might feel you are being put on the spot with parents judging you as a teacher, BUT instead it will help to open trust.  {Remember, they are already feeling judged as parents, so it sort of evens the playing field and puts them at ease.}  Plus, it gives you time to think about your answers and respond in person at the conference.  With limited minutes during each  conference, I always walk away thinking about additional items I would have brought up.  This helps to curb that.

Invite parents to help in some way in the classroom beyond the regular school-sponsored events of holiday parties.  Every week.  Ask directly.  As that trust and familiarity grows with you, parents that are able will be far more likely to take you up on that offer.  Just like creating an environment in your classroom where students have “jobs” which helps to create that sense of community, by getting parents involved, it helps them to feel a sense of pride and “in-the-know” as well.

Even if they are full-time working caregivers, there are some things that can be contributed if he or she cannot physically get to the classroom.  See THIS CHECKLIST.

When talking about behavior choices, have those tough conversations WITH the parent AND child.  If every day a child comes home and all the caregiver sees is yet another behavior infraction and only hears one side of the story, it creates a “divorced parents” situation. He said, she said.  Rather than a true conversation where all parties take responsibility for their actions and learning can be worked on together to improve the situation.  It also alerts the child that he or she doesn’t get to play “both sides of the fence” as the teacher and parent WILL be discussing exactly what happened with the student involved in that conversation.

Let parents know about the good things too.  Without those hopeful conversations, it gets really hard to reprimand a child nightly at home.  Positive reinforcement can do wonders for a child’s behavior – and making connections with parents that don’t involve them feeling like their parenting skills are being judged.

Last one:  Know something personal about the child when the parent does show up for conferences.  If you can tell the parent that you know he is a Rubiks Cube whiz or that she is the best jump roper on the playground during recess, it shows you care about the CHILD.  Not whether he or she can read at grade level or whether he or she has an organized desk, but that you are at least in like with this little human and that you do take personal responsibility for the whole child.

That’s the end of my essay – sorry for the long post.  Yes, I do realize it is HARD to do some of these items regularly with all the documentation you already have to keep on each child – and some classrooms are pushing over 30 students.  Administration is breathing down your neck for data, data, and more data.  You have little supplies and less time.

The more of these items you can implement though, the more your parents will be involved and feel like it really is a partnership.  I know we have all said it – and truly believed it IS a partnership – but how are we SHOWING it to parents?  And how often?

Just some food for thought.  Take it or leave it.  I know each of you is doing your very best in the classroom every single day with the students you have.  It’s all you can do some days.  Thank you for your work.  It really matters.