Having just finished a week of conferences with the parents of my 32 sixth graders, I am reflective about my students and their achievements. This is nothing new. After 18 years of teaching, you would think I know it all, but I am constantly learning about people: parents and children especially. It’s a validation of my instructional program when parents tell me how much their child enjoys a subject–usually reading or writng–and a personal validation when they tell me how much their child enjoys me. This is not the most important result of a conference, though. A conference should let the student know that their parent and their teacher are working together to support them. This is why I always ask that the student be present at the conference.
A favorite principal of mine once said, “Parents send you their very best child. They don’t keep the best ones home in the closet.” This is never more evident than at parent conference. Mom or Dad, or both, sit there beaming with pride in whatever their child has accomplished: honor roll, bringing up a grade in a tough subject, getting all ‘outstandings’ for class behavior. In a class of 32 children, it’s a reminder to the teacher not to let any of them slip into a crack. Despite time constraints, each and every one of them deserve my full attention.
For the parents, the sixth grade conference is the seventh one they’ve encountered. Anything the teacher can tell them about behavior or achievement they’ve already heard. Whether your child is a straight A student, has trouble turning work in, chats all day, or never says a word, the parent is aware. They’ve heard suggestions from teachers before and implemented what they can. My focus in this conference is on the student.
This is the first conference my students have attended. They are nervous and curious. I tell them they are as much a part of their educational team as their parent and I am (see my post Parent Conference Tips). For many, it’s the first time they’ve heard a teacher compliment them. (I always find something to compliment them about.) For the past six years, parents have come home from conference and told them, “You’re doing well” or “You need to improve.” Now they hear the actual words from the teacher’s mouth. It’s powerful.
From the parent I learn what strategies have been tried and the level of their frustration or satisfaction. From the students I learn what day-to-day obstacles they face, from who they’re sitting with to confusion over assignment guidelines. Most of them confess, or are outed by their parents, that they are shy about approaching me with questions. One on one for the first time, I can bond with them in a way that encourages them to come forward.
In class after conferences, that bond continues. I get raised eyebrows from a student that clearly say to me, “See? I told you about this guy.” I have more shy ones coming to me with questions. I am able to control behavior with one look that says, “We talked about this.”
Your children may not believe you when you tell them what the teacher said at a conference. When they talk to the teacher directly, they learn I’m approachable and I care. So even though you are hearing the same thing over and over again, please try to include your student in the conference. As I said before, it’s powerful.