Mrs. D. wrote a scintillating article entitled “Preparing for the Parent Teacher Conference” on Associated Content. As a teacher finding herself on the other side of the table for the first time, she provides some great information for the parent in this situation. However, as a past public school parent, (now a homeschooling parent) I have to ask, can a parent really be heard in a fifteen-minute parent teacher conference.
1. As Mrs. D suggested, I went in prepared. I knew my children’s weaknesses and strengths, but in 15 minutes, I hardly had time to communicate the degree of my son’s shyness, or the intensity of my daughters need for attention. I felt like the teachers thought I’ve heard this one before” as they patted me on my butt, and dismissed my from their classrooms after handing me a handful of fluff, otherwise known as classroom work that was supposed to make me proud.
2. I tried to address what I saw as serious problems my kids were having. I asked the teachers to try to help me understand why one child got A’s on her work and U (unsatisfactory) in her behavior. Perhaps she needed more stimulation, I suggested. All I got was rolled eyes and a statement that when her behavior was up to par with her schoolwork then enrichment programs would be addressed. Well, her work and behavior eventually matched. Her school progress plummeted. As for my son, I tried address why his grades would look like this: A, A, A+, F, B+ A. He was an A student but on occasion, he would bring home a “flag”. The teachers insisted he was having an off day, but no one wanted to address that this usually happened on days when he had been bullied.
3. I tried to point out that schoolwork and behavior did not match behavior and progress at home. This was usually followed by a blank stare that suggested I had some nerve to even try to evaluate them myself.
4. I tried to speak to my child about the classroom environment. These conversations broke my heart as much tears followed and frustrations were revealed. Even now, four years later, I am still hearing about traumatic events that happened in school, many I am hearing about for the first time. I am glad they are no longer in a classroom environment.
Mrs. D. goes on to state that “teachers are usually extremely hardworking and dedicated to each child’s success”. My mother was a Special Ed Teacher. I believe her statement, for the most part. I understand that the teacher works hard. I understand that she does the best she can do with what she has. As for keeping every child’s best, interest at heart, well…. For example, when my son was in first grade, I made an appointment to see the teacher because I noticed my son was doing the exact same work he had done in Kindergarten in another state. She huffed, looked me in the eye and said, “Well, do you want me to frustrate the other children?” At that moment, I gave up on the fairy tale as every teacher having the child’s best interest at heart. Teachers that followed were no better.
Another thing Mrs. D. suggests to that parent is that they should be open to everything they hear. I have to ask, shouldn’t the teacher be open to what they hear as well. Parents like me are tired of feeling dismissed because the teacher has neither the time to sit and listen to the parent, not the inclination to believe the parent just might know his or her own child better than the teacher. One example of this was when my son was in pre-school. I had two conferences with the teacher where I told her directly, my child is painfully shy. She replies that most children are at this age. At each of the conferences I asked, so, how is my child doing? Oh, he’s just him”, she replies. (I am still trying to figure that one out.) Finally, at the third and final conference for the year, she nervously suggests I remove the child from the class and try bringing him back next year. This comment took me completely by surprise! “Why?” I asked, puzzled. Well, because he cannot speak, she says. “CAN’T SPEAK???? What child are you talking…?” I start spouting, when as if by cue, my son starts yelling at his baby sister. The teacher jumps up, runs across the room, and gets in my sons face all excited as if she has just seen a miracle from god. To make a long story short, she had never heard him speak before, nor had she seen the need to directly address that with me. Hadn’t the teacher heard a word I had said? Perhaps momentarily, but she did not take me seriously. Fortunately, she was a good teacher, and took an invitation to spend a Saturday morning at my house so that my son would be comfortable enough with her to speak in class. If we had only addressed this problem earlier in the year, he would have gotten a lot more value.
Now, my point is not to ridicule or argue against Mrs. D’s advice or position, but to stress the importance of following her advice to the letter of the word. If you feel that you are not heard or understood for any reason, then you need to follow up with an early morning, or late afternoon appointment because the 15-minute parent teacher’s conference is not enough time to get your point across. In addition, after two full days of 15-minute parent-teacher conferences, it is unlikely that the teacher will remember a word you said in the first place.