Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Parent Conferences

Someone could do some interesting ethnographic work about parent-teacher(-student) conferences. What is said, how it is said, how meaning is constructed and what messages we send through the conversations we have: fascinating.

I spent about 5 hours today meeting with parents. I used to get very nervous before these events, but that has faded. This year, I was very pleased with nearly all the grades for the sixth graders, and felt that I had concrete feedback to provide, particularly to those who do need to improve. Of course, the parents of the two or three kids who are having the most trouble did not show up... isn't that always the way? As for the seventh graders, while I knew that some parents would be disappointed in their kids, I also felt completely confident that the grades were fair and that no one was going to be surprised. Surprises are the biggest problem in parent-teacher conferences. If a parent arrives and has no inkling that his or her child is doing poorly, that parent is going to be very angry, at the child and at the teacher. This year, no surprises.

I had many different kinds of conversations...

the "you should be very proud of your son/daughter, keep up the good work..." conversation (everyone's favorite!)
the "s/he's doing very well and is likely to improve as s/he gets used to middle school level assignments..." conversation
the "s/he is doing well but I wish s/he was less chatty during class..." conversation
and also "s/he is doing well, but snickers and smirks when other children are disrespectful, what is up with that?"
and "s/he is doing well but needs to participate more"
and "s/he did fine but could take the work to the next level by paying closer attention to the assignment sheets and checking that s/he is fulfilling all the expectations"
and "s/he got a low grade because s/he never handed in X assignment"
and "I can talk to your brother/father/sister/mother/aunt about this for hours, but in the end, what happens next is up to you... when you decide to buckle down and get serious, you have the ability to do much better"
followed closely by "your actions have real world consequences... which teacher would you ask to write you a letter of recommendation for high school next year, and what do you think we would write if you did ask us? you don't want to wake up in 11th grade in a crazy high school with metal detectors and suddenly wish you'd done things differently back in middle school..."
and also "I'm on your side, I want to help you, but when I come over to your table to work with you one-on-one, and you are in the middle of a conversation with your neighbor and just look at me and giggle, well, it seems like you're not doing your part to do better...
and "she's doing very good work, but every time I look at her, her body language and facial expression is that of someone who is doing something wrong and wondering when she's going to get caught, and given her track record of dishonesty, I have to say that she's digging herself deeper and deeper into a hole that is hard to get out of..."
and "here's a copy of the next project assignment sheet... it's due Thursday... if I don't receive it from your son/daughter, I will give you a call..."

It really is fascinating. Sometimes, I am talking directly to the student, sometimes I'm talking to the parent, but the message is for the student, and sometimes, I'm talking to the parent and the message is for the parent. And parents use the conference as an opportunity to communicate various messages to their children and to the teacher... I was going to write more... but I'm really tired. You get the idea, or you'll ask me in the comments what the heck I'm talking about and I'll try to do it justice tomorrow.

8 Comments:

Blogger Lady Strathconn said...

Not my favorite time of year. I get really nervous, and then they go pretty well.

Glad they went well.

10:26 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

I wish I could have that level of nuanced conversation, but this year I have two kids whose parents speak English and my Spanish is tremendous for ordering food and explaining reading logs, and terrible for everything else. Communication is me fumbling to explain things, them concerned about behavior, me reiterating that behavior is fine because I'm the alpha gorilla, we gotta talk achievement, and everyone going home feeling underwhelmed.

9:40 AM  
Anonymous beekay said...

Wow. Your middle school actually has regular parent/teacher conferences?! My daughter's middle school doesn't. We can request a conference, of course, but it's up to the parents to ask for it and arrange it. Regular parent/teacher conferences are just an elementary school thing around here.

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you read "The Essential Conversation" by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot? The book "focuses on the text and subtext, the substance and the symbolism of the much-dreaded parent-teacher conferences and offers lessons about how to make them more productive for both parties"
http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/features/sll01012004.html

As an educator with children in public schools I found it intersting to read this and try to see p/t conferences from both sides. As a teacher, I always found myself a bit nervous as conferences approached and was surprise d to feel the same way when I was first in the other chair.

4:59 PM  
Blogger KC said...

i'm a little nervous for mine...

but not very, as I've posted grades on my website a bunch of times and had very few parent phone calls this year...

Of course, I've made very few parent phone calls, as well, and therein might lie the problem.

I do have good data, so I should be able to speak intelligently about each kid, and that must count for something.

Anyway, glad your conferences went well!! I'm all for CDA on the situation -- you should do an article!

5:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's the worst time of the year, not because of the conference itself, but for all the stress that comes before it.

Mine went well. I always smile, say something positive and when I have to get to a problem I say, "However I am very concerned about..."

For students that are struggling, I always have a conference with their parents before report cards because it helps prepare them for that special comment "PROMOTION IN DOUBT".

7:49 PM  
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10:11 PM  
Blogger lisa said...

I'm a first year teacher, so I'm a little nervous about teacher conferences.But it seems everyone is and they always go fine. Tommorow is back to school night at my school, it'll be a good warm up for me im sure

6:50 PM  

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