Parent-Teacher Fun and Conferences
I think I had 62 conferences. Most in… maybe ever?
Let me back up before I start the stories. I left my regular Bronx high school at the end of 2002. I’d always had five classes – but we never had tremendous parent turnout for conferences. Maybe once I had 35 between Thursday and Friday? And then I came to my new school, with much higher turnout. But our first year we only had 62 students. And our second my course load was reduced to three, as I was the programmer. And aside from an occasional extra class, and Spring 2008 when I had five – and Spring is always lighter than Fall – I have had three classes. And now, no more comp time, I have five regular classes, including most of our freshmen, who show up around 90%.
Good – 36 on Thursday evening (two and a half hours). That’s about four minutes per conference. Wrapped up with less than 10 minutes left. One parent had signed my sheet, but left (but has two of my kids). The longest conference was less than ten minutes.
Brief – (after a minute establishing saying hello, making some observation about the child’s work or attitude or demeanor or enthusiasm) “I don’t mean to be rude, and I’m glad to have met you.” (at this point I hand them something the kid had written about their math experiences in lower grades, call it a parting gift) “If any concerns arise, please call the school and I’ll get right back to you, but your child is off to a wonderful start, we really don’t have anything else to discuss right now.” (rise to usher them out) (maybe 10 – 15 of these)
Tongue was in cheek! Tongue was in cheek! – Child was at the conference. Overwhelmingly positive, but the child worries too much, feels slightly unsure and is needlessly nervous (even if everything in doubt was wrong, test grades would still be in the 90s. And not everything in doubt is wrong). I express this small concern to the student and the parents, (they nodded with understanding), the student really is doing fantastically well, and add, tongue in cheek, that I could ask the student to record an estimated score at the top of the next test, and I could deduct if the estimate was off by more than 10 points. The poor student looked horrified, and one parent requested that I really do this.
Visiting is fun! – Over a quarter of my senior parents showed up – in almost all cases their kids were fine; in the “bad” cases the kids were ok, but homework was a bit spotty. We talked about college, about calculus, about four years of progress, and in several cases, about Gross. I shared his message with the kids, many of whom were fairly excited, and some of whom in turn showed their parents.
Sloppy! – I barely glanced at my gradesheets, as I have a good idea of what I wanted to say, and I know one kid from the next. But at the end of Friday, I goofed. One child has a great attitude, but I was concerned (I blundered) about test and quiz scores not being the highest. And then I did glance at the grade sheets, and I was clearly overreacting to two mediocre quizzes; the tests had been quite strong. The concern was right, but not to the degree I expressed. I still think the parent heard most clearly the positives (I was quite specific), so no harm done. But sloppy. Tsk.
Fast again – Friday was two hours, I saw 26, but ran a few minutes over. This was almost five minutes per conference. A parent, waiting near my door for someone else, remarked on how quickly I was popping out for the next one.
Sweet! I heard “my child loves your class” more than I have in the past. I mean, well, that’s not really the point, is it? But if they love it, they are more likely to do the work, more likely to do the work with interest, more likely to be eager to try to please, etc, etc. Plus, you know as well as I do, looking at smiling faces or looking at scowling faces….
Don’t bother me, even if you’re the Chancellor – actually, that was his call. He visited our school Thursday evening, spoke with administration, and the people in the hall, who were mostly parents. More to do here than in most Bronx high schools, where parent participation remains lower than it could be, by a lot. Of all the Bronx schools to visit – ahem. But he stayed out of the rooms, as the conferences were private (he’s right).
Difficulties? There were a few tougher conversations. But in most cases it was clear that the parents and I were on the same side. In several cases (three?) I had samples of work that needed improvement, but chose to make the point without taking out the embarrassing papers. I think that was the right call. In any case, even where we did not end up agreeing, the conversations were respectful and professional.
No buses – I did not throw a single kid under the bus. The most negative, the parents had already spoken to me previously. Two seniors with some homework issues, raised, but I mentioned in the context of the overall quality of the work they are performing (good) and the amount of material they are mastering (considerable). The only near-regret I have here was a freshman, who I praised for several types of work, but then mentioned – too chatty. The parent keyed in on the negative, and the child may come on Monday complaining…
Looking ahead – for the spring, fewer freshman parents – they already know me, and their kids are largely doing fine. But I’ll try to max out the seniors, to say goodbyes and all.