Parent Teacher Conferences

conferenceFor 22 years, November has meant report cards and parent conferences. Since this is my last year of teaching sixth grade, I feel a bit nostalgic and want to offer some observations and advice for parents.

  1. Don’t ask for extra credit on the day grades close. Students build a grade over many weeks. It’s not going to be fixed by one more assignment, especially if the parent asks instead of the child. Instead, be proactive throughout the semester and make sure your student does their best and hands in all the work all the time.
  2. Honor the conference time. An appointment with a teacher reserves her time. Be courteous and be on time. Don’t ask to cancel or change the conference time at the last minute (unless it’s an emergency). It’s hard to schedule 31 conferences into a single day (or even two), and it really annoys me when parents don’t show up and don’t call.
  3. Be prepared. In my classroom, parents have access to graded assignments online 24 hours a day. Look over those grades and talk to your child. Ask them first about why that assignment is missing or why this one is a zero.
  4. Include your older student in the conference. I ask my students to attend conferences with their parents. Real education involves the teacher, the parent, and the student working together. If the parent and I together decide on a course of action and the student doesn’t buy in, nothing changes.
  5. Listen actively, even if you’ve heard it before. By the time a student reaches sixth grade, parents have heard it all. I’ve never had a parent say, “What? He’s not turning in work?” or “What? She talks in class?” Parents know. So how do we, a team of parent, teacher, and child, improve the behavior? If something is going to change, someone needs to change. The student already has a new teacher. What are you willing or able to change at home?
  6. Most importantly, believe the teacher has your child’s best interests in mind.  The teacher may not be perfect, but he/she is with your child for the entire school day. They know what students need to succeed in today’s educational environment. I’ve had parents argue with me about the value of homework, about using chromebooks in class, and about formatting essays, among other things. Trust that the teacher wants your child to succeed.

I could probably continue this list, but I’ll stop there. Please enjoy meeting with your child’s teacher this fall as much as I enjoy meeting with you! Happy Conferences!


Planting Seeds

Growing tree22450289.gifOne of the most rewarding things about being a teacher is watching students’ minds encounter new ideas, filter them with what they already know, and come to their own unique conclusions. It’s only the third week of school, and already we’ve had a couple of discussions that planted seeds. They will continue to process everything they read and encounter, and someday later this month or next, or maybe in the spring, we will discuss these topics more fully.

One seed had to do with my dog’s cataract surgery. Someone asked what it was, and I drew a diagram on the board and explained. Then I said, “What’s most amazing is that someone had to think of this. Someone saw a need, thought of fake lenses, and figured out how to make it happen. Solutions like that require being curious about the world around you, caring about making things better, and thinking outside what has already been done.” They were silent for a minute or so. Then they asked questions. We talked about a few other great inventions, and the need to wonder about the world.

Another day, I showed the class American Born Chinese, a graphic novel by Gene Yang. I talked about how it weaved three different characters together into a great story. One of my boys raised his hand and said, “That book’s racist.” No one else had read it. I agreed that it had stereotypes of Chinese people in it, and I showed them a page with a picture of that. I asked, “Are racism and prejudice the same?” We discussed that stereotypes feed prejudice, but racism doesn’t exist unless someone is using it to hurt others–like denying them a job because of race. I asked them to think about whether it made a difference that the author of the book was Chinese. Would it be racist if I, as a white woman, wrote it?

Today we talked about distractions to getting our work done. Someone said they play games online and have trouble pulling away from them. I told them I play four Facebook games myself and have the same problem–I would have Aloha Spirit completed by now if it weren’t for Candy Crush! We talked about how adults have to overcome distractions to get their work done just like kids do. They were very surprised to realize this.

As the year goes on, I’m sure we will have many class discussions. I know that, as they become better at observing the world around them, my students will have valuable input to these discussions. I can hardly wait.



Back to School

animated_book02Each year it seems the first day of school is earlier and earlier. I can’t believe today marks a week since school started!

The first day of school I had yard duty at the student drop off. Very few cars came. Most parents walked their child to school. I greeted everyone with a smile and a, “Welcome back!” Students and parents all smiled. Everything is perfect on the first day of school–no issues darken anyone’s anticipation. Students all have shiny new backpacks and new clothes. Many carry department store bags with school supplies in them. (As an upper grade teacher, let me get on my soapbox here a moment and plead with parents to please unpack those supplies at home. I don’t have time to put paper in binders, unwrap pencils, etc.) Parents on the first day walk their children up onto the playground. They visit with other parents as their children find their new class lines and greet friends.

When school starts and the parents leave, the teachers push play and go. They introduce themselves. They talk about the policies and rules and curriculum. They lead getting-to-know-you games and art projects. And they go home tired.

My father was an elementary school teacher. On the first day of school, he made root beer floats when we all got home, and we took turns telling Mom about our first day. In my family, we have milkshakes on the first and last day. My sons are long out of school, but they still want milkshakes on my first day of school.

So the first couple of days are blissful in the classroom. Students are perfect. Teachers are patient. Then the teacher starts to ask the students to do something….like Math. And then begins the opportunity to fail. Every year I plead with the students to make sure they get their work done so they don’t get behind. Every year, some of them only last the first week. So as I sit here this morning with the first two assignments I’ve collected, I hope they are all here. Deep down, I suspect they won’t be and I will know right away which one of my students is That Student, the one who forgets to turn in work, then gets behind and frustrated, then misses so much they no longer know what’s going on. Once again I vow I will not let that student fall behind.

Welcome back to school!