I had conferences with all of my students’ parents yesterday and today. Yesterday was especially rough since I had to be at school at 7:00 (which is usually when I wake up) and didn’t leave until 6. I had 12 conferences, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but I couldn’t get anything done during the day because the time between the conferences was so short and choppy. Today I had a normal length day with six conferences. Only one parent didn’t show, and she called and we did a phone conference. Excellent.
I make my students sit in on their conferences. Only two (and the phone kid) couldn’t. The students looked terrified. But they know what their grades are. And the know how they behave. What am I going to say about them that they can’t hear?
I used to dread student conferences. I’d hem and haw explaining grades. I didn’t have evidence in front of me to back up my grades. I didn’t know how to talk about behavior.
It’s easier now. In part because our parents tend to accept whatever we say, but also because I now have a system for keeping all tests and important documents. I can flip open a folder and point. “This is how they’ve done.” I stay on top of grading so my gradebook is never more than two assignments out of date. And I am confident in saying, “Even though your child earned mostly 90%s on their tests, their tested reading level is not up to grade standards. I don’t feel comfortable giving a student an A when they are reading one full grade below their level. I think it sets up a false sense of security.” And the parents don’t argue.
I also admit my own weaknesses, which seems to prevent parent anger. Several times I said, “I have not challenged your child enough this quarter. Here are my plans for next quarter… So expect more homework at a higher level, expect more struggling at home.” And then I’d look at the student and say, “You are a strong student. And this entire year has been easy for you. Some kids—maybe not you, but some kids—think being smart makes everything easy, but that’s not what being smart means. This next quarter is going to be harder for you, and that’s good. Because when it’s hard enough that you work to get to the end, that’s when you know you’re learning.” Every kid I said that to has bought into it, so I must be doing something right.
I mentioned to several parents that I was trying to differentiate instruction at a higher level so their student would be better prepared for middle school. I was thanked profusely because, unfortunately, most teachers don’t do that at our school. I was also thanked for pushing students and for holding them to high standards. That felt good on a day when another teacher pushed back and said no way, students couldn’t be expected to write one 12-15 sentence composition a week.
More than one parent also seemed surprised that I spent so little time on behavior. One student’s mother said, “I have never heard a teacher say so many good things about my daughter.” I was surprised. Her daughter is a solid student. Not straight As by any means, but she earns her Bs and Cs. She’s a little chatty but manageable. She sometimes gets an attitude… she’s 12. She’s supposed to be getting to that attitude-age. Glare back at her and she gets over it. What’s there to complain about?
My absolute worst student, the one who curses at other teachers (never me) and is just wild? I spent about 15% of the conference talking about his behavior and the other 85% was about his academics. I figured, well, he behaves for me. And when he doesn’t behave for the other teachers, she usually hears about it. She’s been hearing about it for six years. And she’s tried. And she obviously can’t control him. So what is more bitching really going to solve? So instead I told her about how much improvement he made in reading, and how well he was doing in social studies and math. And when we were done she and her son were beaming. “Wow,” she said, “I am surprised. In a really good way.” Why shouldn’t she know that her son is working hard and that he’s a wonderful (appropriate) actor?
What was interesting was to see how my students behaved with their parents. Sometimes they were just like they were in class. Other times they were complete opposites.
My co-worker found out we needed pack towels for our trip and loaned us her family’s camp towels. “Amanda, I had to buy these for the Boy Scouts’ camping trip at $35 each. Please use them.”
I came home last night to see a sign on the door of our building. On the 14th they’ll be repainting the parking lot for half the units. On the 15th, they’ll do the other half. This means that no matter where I park, if I leave my car here, it’s going to be towed somewhere else on the lot at least once.
So I asked my coworker if I could park at her house for ten days. Not only can I do that, but she’s also taking us to the airport.
She’s like our fairy godmother!