Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Parent Teacher Conferences - Part I


Ah yes.  It's that time of year.  Time for Parent Teacher Conferences.

Last night was my first of two nights devoted to meeting with parents to discuss their child's current progress.  I had parents scheduled from 4PM - 7:40PM, and all but one parent showed up which is pretty good attendance.

I really enjoy conferences.  It's sometimes the only chance I ever get to meet the parents and talk to them about how their kids are doing.  Being that it's early in the school year, it gives me a chance to tackle any issues I may be dealing with and bring to light some information the parent had no idea about because the little notes I send home somehow seem to get misplaced between school and home.

I also enjoy conferences because it gives the kids a chance to shine.  It's amazing to me how many students are scared of conferences, even though they have been exemplar students all year and have absolutely no reason to be worried whatsoever.  And, it's always great to see the looks on their faces when I give them kudos for their hard work.  The kids and the parents, actually.

Last night, all of my conferences went very well.  There was only one scheduled that I was a little nervous about, and that's only because I've had a few minor issues with the child...yet the parent had a few major issues with me.  

That's not entirely true.  What I mean is, the parent had heard a few things about me.  Mostly false information that she'd heard from her older kids about my style of teaching and who I am as a person. I was openly accused of being a bully, and saying very nasty things about her child and some other children that attend the school.  Such as making fun of the way they dressed or calling them nasty names right in front of them.

I was shocked.

I was glad that I got to give the parent my side of the story, but I'm not sure whether she left believing me.  It always hurts my heart when a parent doubts my abilities, but it's unbearable when a parent believes something about me that couldn't be further from the truth.

She'd heard I was mean.  I corrected her by saying I was strict.  They are two different things.  I have high expectations, and I expect students to be responsible for their learning and face their challenges head on.  She agreed with me that it was important for kids to be set to those standards.  She told me that she wanted her child to be responsible and not be coddled along.  I explained my importance of honesty, and that for the most part all of my students were extremely honest with me.  The problem, however, is that the honesty seemed to stop at my classroom door.  It was not uncommon to meet with a parent about a situation and get two different sides of a story.  This was one of those situations, and I think she understood that there had been some dishonesty with her child and portraying some of the events that had taken place at school.

She'd heard that I had said very derogative remarks about a child and that I had blatantly called them ugly.  I explained there was a miscommunication, and that I didn't call a child ugly, I asked them not to be ugly to others.  A situation had arose where a group of kids, one of her older children being one of them, weren't being very well behaved or nice to each other, and I had told them all to stop being ugly.  To each other.  Not near the same thing, but I can see where a few passes of the information in the rumor mill could lead to that misinformation.

She'd heard that I had made fun of a child and the way they dressed.  I was shocked and appalled by this statement.  There was no misunderstanding that had taken place, that was just a bold faced lie.  I would never and have never made fun of a child based on what they wore - or for any other reason as a matter of fact. I'm a big believer in picking on people your own size, and I would never make fun of a child.  That accusation just upset me to no end, and I was firm in my explanation of such.  She seemed to believe me, but it was hard to tell.

Overall, the conference went OK, but it was the only one that left me feeling a little sad.  

Luckily, I had some great conferences after the fact that boosted my spirits once again and made me feel a lot better about what I'm doing in the classroom every day.

At the end of the school day, yesterday, I had each child write some notes that they wanted to be included in their conference folders.  Information that they wanted to share with their parents.  I also made a point not to read the information, and held off until conferences.  A little dangerous, I suppose, but conferences should be the time that concerns are raised and I didn't want any bias from what the kids had to say.  If they wanted to complain about me, they should have the chance to do so...and give me the chance to defend myself or straighten out anything that was going on.

Thankfully, the notes that had been written for parents were extremely honest and shone a nice light in my direction.

I had several students who pinpointed their challenges.  Stuff they were struggling with.  They ALL followed up, however, with the fact that I had been supporting and helping them through their struggles.  Some of the students fessed up to getting in to trouble for minor infractions, and some had concerns about getting in to trouble when they NEVER get in to trouble.  They made goals to listen better, follow directions better, and to make better grades.  And, for the most part, they all do that.  It was nice to ease some concerned looks from parents with explaining that their child had concerns about stuff that didn't apply to them at all.

The whole evening was full of warm and fuzzy feelings, but there was one that really knocked my socks off and caused the Kleenex to come out.

A mother sat and listened to the wonderful progress her child had made.  The look of relief and happiness on the mother's face was picture worthy.  It obviously meant a lot to her to hear good comments about her child.  I had an interpreter with me to translate the conference, and between the two of us, we shared some amazing progress about the child.  We made it a challenge for the Hispanic speaking kids to translate their conference notes that they'd written to their parents.  This particular child had written a whole page worth of stuff, and was a little embarrassed to share it.  She did, and shared how she had only gotten in to trouble one time and it was just a warning.  She shared how much better she'd gotten in all of the subjects and how her grades were a lot better now than they were at the beginning of the school year.  She spoke about her struggles in math.  She shared how disappointed she was in herself for trying her absolute best on a math test, but not making a good grade on it..and then followed it up with how bad it had made her feel.  I stopped her at that point, looked her straight in the eyes, and told her that she gave me her best EVERY single day and I knew it.  All I asked for was that very thing.  She should not doubt herself or feel upset about one little grade.  She knew she needed help, and was doing everything she could to get help with it.  And that in itself was amazing.  I then saw the last sentence of her paper...and it was a thank you to me for always being there for her.  

**Insert tears**

Her mother, who had also teared up just a smidgen by this point, looked at me and in English thanked me for being their for her child.  She told me that she worked very hard, and sometimes felt like she didn't have enough time to be there for her child.  That she had no idea how well she was doing, and that made her sad.  But, she was happy knowing I was caring for her daughter and helping her so much.  

**Insert sobs**

It always touches my heart to hear something like this.  True and utter appreciation.  Not just for teaching a child, but for CARING for a child.  

That's what it's all about.  And another reason why I love conferences so much.  

Not so that I can give myself a big pat on the back.  I mean, that's always nice, but to actually make a parent's day by hearing that their child has made so many gains and has come such a long way in such a short time.  To know that their child is responsible for their learning, and that it means something to them.  It's important for their child to succeed and it's important when they don't.  That they care about their own education.  And how much I care about each and every kid in my class.

I don't care how late I have to stay at school on a conference night.  Getting to spend a few hours meeting with parents is an awesome way to spend an evening.  Especially when it's full of amazing conferences like I had last night.

And, I get to do it all over again tonight. 

I can't wait.

It's appropriate that for the kick off of Drug Free Week that our theme is Happy, Happy, Happy to be drug free! *Duck Dynasty.

I may not have a bunch of camo to wear in honor of our first Drug Free spirit day, but I will get to wear my Happy, Happy, Happy smile today.  And that's all the spirit I need to lead me in to another awesome night of conferences.

Have an amazing Tuesday, everyone!!


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