# always liked parent teacher conferences…

I always did. But this edition (Thursday evening and yesterday afternoon) was one of my favorites.

Turnout: At my high school we get high turnout. Always have. And highest in 9th grade. But this is my first year (in the last eight) without ninth graders… And the Spring is always lighter, much lighter, than the Fall, but again, moreso for 9th graders. And I only teach three classes… But I lean on kids to drag their parents in. Bottom line: I have 75 students (but 4 have me for two courses), so 71, and I saw 20 parents on Thursday, 16 Friday.

Tone: I like kids. But in conversation after conversation, I realized I really like my students. There’s a weird bonus being in a stable small school (reread that, pause at the word “stable” so you don’t miss the meaning) – you get to know the kids. And in this case, 55 of my 71 are juniors, and 54 of them were my students freshman year, and 15 are seniors, of whom 4 had me previously, but I know all of them… (plus a sophomore). Anyway, especially among the juniors, being able to refer to their performance, attitude, behavior etc from 2 years ago was great.

A repeated fragment of conversation (maybe 5 times): “Honestly, freshman year Johnny was a bit (defiant/annoying/distracted/unfocused) but he’s really (select the appropriate area to mention academic/personal/behavorial/attitudinal growth).” And in several cases parents reported that their child appreciated my class far more this year…

Remember Kelly? (There was a great story about Kelly – not his real name – earlier this year – worth writing about a student, even though I try to avoid doing so). Kelly was one of those conversations…

Seniors: A couple of senior parents came by, just as a final visit (it’s hard to talk to everyone you’d like to at graduation), one was just a pure (and delightful) thank you. Another brought the older brother, alumnus, who became a math major in college, contrary to his original plans. And seniors in some degree of difficulty came by and got various forms of the “3 serious months” talk.

Tougher conversations: Any time a student is underperforming, I find the conversation tougher. In past years, when 95% of my conferences were positive, the few that did not go so well fell into this category. Underperforming, by the way, can mean failing. It can also mean a B+ student getting a C, or an A student getting a B+. Is getting a B+ really a problem? Absolutely, if it is clearly below where the student should be. But these conferences went well. Why?

- No big surprises. Students discussed problems with parents before the conferences. I discussed problems with some parents before the conferences.
- Previous intervention. For each kid, there’d been at least one attempt already to address the issue that we were looking at.
- A plan, with shared responsibility: For each kid, I suggested a very specific way of addressing what was going wrong. Most of these involved me doing something “extra’ – reaching out, accepting homework submitted in a non-standard way, maybe just being understanding/non-judgmental.
- No. I did not agree to things I was unable or unwilling to do. I avoided promises that I will have trouble keeping.
- Specific. I tried to identify one item that was the of greatest concern. In the past I may have (not my intention, but…) given the impression that I was making a general complaint about someone’s child.

In any event, I got the feeling that parents left the conferences on the same page as me, and with a shared hope/expectation that their child would soon be on the same page, as well.

I’ve always kind of enjoyed what we call “parents’ evenings”, too, and yeah, it’s much better when you’ve known a kid for a while.

This sort of post makes me realise just how different the US school system is to ours. “Only three classes” of ninth grade? Nobody in my department has more than one class in any year group below age 16, and two above – indeed the 12-to-16 kids all take maths simultaneously, so it would be impossible. (And at my school as at almost every school, up to 16 there are no options to be thought about in their choice of maths courses, no “algebra” or “geometry” courses – there’s just “maths”, covering all that year’s topics, and every child takes it.)

My school’s timetables on 60 total periods over a two-week cycle, in which I see:

11-12 year olds (“year 7”) 7 times (over 10 days)

year 8 7 times

I don’t have year 9 this year

year 10 six times; this group I will carry on until year 11

year 11 six times; this group I have had since year 10

year 12 (at this point math is optional) – I have the fast-track advanced group, for six of their 22 periods of maths, and will have them next year too

year 13 I have two groups, seen six times each from their 11 periods each, and had them last year too.

Up to year 11 they only have one math teacher each year. In the lower school (7-9 going into 10) they would only rarely have the same teacher two straight years, though some schools shoot for more continuity here (we deliberately avoid it).

How does your spread compare? It seems very different to me.