Say that title five times fast. It's a mouthful, right? HA! But, getting ready for parent-teacher conferences, often feels like saying that title five times fast...tough.
I actually LOVE doing Parent-Teacher conferences. I might be one of the very few people in the teaching world that says that, but I'm OK with it. PT conferences are a great way for me to meet with parents, sometimes for the first time, and share everything their child has been up to during the first couple of months of school.
I tell my kids how much I love doing the conferences, and how excited I get meeting parents. Some of my kiddos take that as a good thing, and some as not such a good thing. And that's another reason why I love the conferences so much. There are kids that know their parents are going to be super happy and super impressed with the grades, level of work, and work samples we'll discuss. Then there are those that get a little nervous, realizing that this will be the first time their parent finds out why their grades aren't as high as they should be. The parents will get to see some of the work samples, and see some of their work.
Either way, the conferences are a great way to get the parents on board with supporting and encouraging their child to either keeping up the great work, or to try a little harder.
As much as I love the conferences, the preparation can be quite stressful. From scheduling, to preparing reports, to digging out work samples, and then organizing it all in to a neat binder for easy access on the night. It doesn't sound like much to take care of, but it is. In fact, I've been working on my conference binder for almost two weeks, now, and I still had to bring a TON of stuff home in order to be completely prepared by Monday night.
I want to make sure that I paint a good enough picture of what we're doing in class, and how their child has been doing. I also need to be prepared for any questions the parents have. Some of the worst things I think a teacher can say during a conference is, "I have no idea why that grade is the way it is", or "no, I don't have an example to show you what I'm talking about". Preparation for conferences doesn't happen over night. If I have a student making a D or an F, I better have work examples and a good explanation to justify those grades. If a student is having some behavior issues, I better have some documentation to back me up. If a student is below grade level and is struggling in a certain subject area, once again, I better have something to back that up more than just me telling their parent.
I go into planning for conferences with the mind set of a parent. I think about the stuff I want to know about my own children and their progress. Being that I have a child that does extremely well and makes straight A's, I think about what I would like to know about my child that can ensure that she's being challenged and isn't getting bored. With a child that makes C's and sometimes doesn't turn work in, even when I've checked if he's had homework and such, I want examples of some of his work to see where the grades are coming from, and a solution of what I can do to ensure that he works hard and puts in more effort. And with a child that does extremely well, but has some social anxiety and is a little nervous about herself and her efforts, I want to see what's being done to improve those things and make sure she's adapting in other areas that aren't just work focused. I keep all of those things in mind when I'm preparing the conference material for my students.
I don't follow a one-size fits all method, and each student's conference file is very different. I have to think about what questions might be asked, what examples I need to show, and what solutions and strategies I can provide to the parent that will be sitting across from me.
Being that this is the first time I'm meeting some of the parents, that can be a very daunting task. I don't know how a parent might react to hearing that their child needs a little more organization, or needs to put in a little more effort, or has trouble turning in homework assignments. It's not uncommon for me to present a parent with a letter or note I've sent home, only to find out that they've never seen the letter and an older sibling or a friend has signed the note. It's not uncommon for me to hear from a parent that their child always says they don't have any homework. And it's definitely not uncommon for a parent to ask for suggestions and advice on how to help their child improve the grades or how they can do more at home to help. My answers need to be supportive, encouraging, and realistic. The information and the work samples I share need to be relevant and support what I'm saying. The scores, reports, and data I have about the student need to be personalized and meaningful to the parent. I can't just hand a parent a printout and hope that they'll understand what the report says, and I certainly don't want to paint a picture that their child is just a dot on a graph.
One of my biggest rules I keep for myself is that each conference needs to be positive. It doesn't matter if the child never turns in homework, never finishes their work, is a constant disruption in the class, is mean to other students, and has absolutely no care about school whatsoever... my first and most important job is making sure the conference is a positive environment. I don't believe in "bad kids" and every single student in my classroom has good qualities that can be highlighted and shared.
That mentality comes from being in my share of conferences about Butter and hearing nothing but negative after negative after negative said about him. Of course, that has never happened in the school we're in now, but I've been to several of those conferences during his school life.
I remember one conference in which I was actually told by the teacher that there was really NOTHING she could do for him. He was just one of those kids that would never "get it" and she had settled on the fact that she just had to figure out how to get him through the rest of the school year. I'm not kidding, people... I got those words told to me. About my own son. As you can imagine, I was FURIOUS. What teacher tells a parent that their child will never get it and she's basically given up on even trying? That was the day that I swore that if I ever did become a teacher, that conference time would be a positive, supportive atmosphere, regardless of how many "issues" a student may have.
And I've kept my word to that effect ever since. No parent should ever have to listen to negative after negative after negative about their child. There's no sense in it. It doesn't matter how much of a handful a parent knows their child to be, they will never sit at the table next to me and listen to me constantly bash their child and be OK with it. They want to hear good things, regardless of how many obstacles the teacher has to jump over daily. And, that doesn't mean lie. If I have a student that makes poor choices, doesn't seem enthusiastic about school, or doesn't seem to care about their grades or effort, I can tell a parent that. As long as it's mixed in with the great and wonderful things their child can and does do. Because, I've never met a child that didn't have some awesome qualities.
It's very easy for me to tell a parent that their child constantly blurts out answers, but that just means their enthusiastic about being apart of class discussions. I can say that a student may never turn in homework, but he tries hard with his classwork. I can tell a parent that a child rushes through their work, but it's often because they think they're trying to please me or they want to read. I can tell a parent that their child is really struggling with addition and subtraction, but the child never gives up and is continually trying to get better. And thankfully, those things have always been true. I've never had a child that I've had to stretch the truth or make-up positives just to try and lay out all the negatives. Each student I've ever had have been amazing students, and it's not hard at all to share some of the wonderful things I love about each and every one of them.
PT conferences should never be a surprise attack on a parent. It's not the time to air out dirty laundry, or "enlighten" a parent about how tough it is to teach their child. Parents know their children. They know the struggles their child has, and they want to hear what I'm doing as a teacher to improve on those things, and what they can do to support me. Conferences should be a time where parents and teachers come together to share, discuss, praise, and plan for the children moving forward.
And that's what I plan on doing with each parent that steps in to my classroom next week.
But, if I'm going to do that, I better get going on finishing up the last few items on my to-do list.
Have a wonderful Saturday, everyone!