Parents, Carl Bosch has some inside advice for your next teacher conference.
Here we are: a bunch of adults, teachers and parents, gathered together to talk about how Sam or Sally might be doing in class. We sit around in a circle, in these desks, like we’re having a summit meeting. Our time limit is usually sharpened down to a brief 15 or 20 minutes to “solve” the mystery of the child we consider. We look at each other, trying to assess just what kind of parent conference this is going to be. Some are friendly gatherings, polite and productive. Some are chess matches, players shifting gingerly, looking for the right move. Some are lamentations—often by the parents, often by the teacher. A very, very few are ugly near-shouting matches. Some are a waste of time; others are the best thing that could happen.
Here are some of the things I’ve come to believe about parent conferences.
No one goes to the doctor and tells the expert how the patient should be treated. No one sits with a lawyer and explains how to plead the case. We don’t tell our plumber, electrician, carpenter, mailman, or even the cab driver how they should do their job. Many parents think that they should have a say in how a classroom is run. They have an opinion about the teacher. The reason is because everyone, that’s right, everyone has done hard time in a classroom. You’ve been on the frontlines for the inspiring teacher as well as the utter bore. Because you’ve spent thousands of hours in the classroom, you think you know what’s going on there. But you really don’t. Unless you stood up at the front of a classroom and tried to present information and learning to a group filled with unique and different individuals of all varying abilities, you have no idea what goes on in a classroom. Sitting in a desk as a student has no reference to being the teacher. The patient on the operating table doesn’t tell the surgeon how to hold the scalpel.
Here’s another thing: what you do know is your child. Tell us about him or her. What kind of a person is he or she? What motivates them? What inspires them? What little secrets and stories can you tell us that will help teachers win over that reluctant student? What can we use to fire them up? How do we get their attention? Are they better with praise or admonition? We’re in this together, and teachers do try to personalize their approach. Help us.
And another: Mom or Dad, if you can’t get your child to do their homework, what makes you think that the teacher will have any better luck? In middle school, we see a student for about 45 minutes a day in a class of at least 20 students. That’s not much real contact time. They go to school for seven hours, but you have them for the other 17. What leverage do we have? We can keep them from lunch or have them come to us before or after school. That’s not a very powerful tool. You provide them with every single thing from, necessities to benefits beyond belief. If you can’t reward them with positives and control them with consequences, how can we?
Parent conferences are like playing musical chairs in little desks. Everyone needs to realize there should only be one winner: the child.
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