I love parent-teacher conferences. It’s such an awesome opportunity to learn more about our students — their home lives, their parents’ attitudes toward school, and the parents’ take on their students’ achievement, behavior, and social lives.
At this school, we do conferences all in one day. Due to a scheduling conflict, one student’s mother needed to have the conference a couple of days early. So last Thursday, my two grade six co-homeroom-teachers and I hosted 29 conferences in eight hours, with each conference lasting between 10 and 15 minutes. This may seem super speedy, but actually it felt just about right. We started off asking how the parents felt their student was doing, and we checked to see if they had any questions about their child’s report card grades (which they saw a week before the conference). Most parents had very few comments or questions, so the other teachers and I asked questions like, How is ___________ at home? Does (s)he have many responsibilities besides homework? How do you think ___________ is doing socially? etc.
I really appreciated how open the parents were. They were honest about their students’ strengths and weaknesses, a few asked great questions about adolescence (what to expect, how to deal with a teenager, etc.), and most had a clear idea of the kind of student and person their children are. I thought it was funny when the parents asked us for tips about how to deal with a kid who is “becoming a teenager” at home. Being closer to being a teenager than having one of my own, I didn’t feel like I was much help! And my co-workers each have young children. So we did our best to explain that their adolescents were probably going to want more space, were going to become more social, and were going to become much more aware of themselves and how others perceive them (however skewed the view may be!). We remembered from last year that around the beginning of the second semester, we saw our little elementary-schoolers become full-fledged middle-schoolers. It’s really amazing how quickly they turn!
A quick note about an aspect of Thai culture that I picked up during last year’s conferences: Kids sleep with their parents, in their parents’ bed, until around the age of 11 or 12. One girl’s dad explained that he knew his daughter was going through a big change when all of a sudden she announced to her parents, “I’m leaving your bed. I’m ready to go to my room,” and she hasn’t returned since! I could tell this was a tough transition for her father; he knew his little girl was growing up! In the States, I think we’d all agree that sleeping with one’s parents until adolescence is more than a tad on the dysfunctional side of things, but here, it’s completely normal. And, therefore, “moving out” of one’s parents’ bed is a big milestone.
Besides helping to make us more effective teachers for each individual student, conferences are fun because each one inspires us to laugh and say, “Whoa! The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!” For instance, one boy who is constantly blaming others for his mistakes has a father who blames other kids for his son’s mistakes! And the girl who makes a sort of chipmunk noise when she laughs has a mom who does the same! It made me think that as unique as I think I am, people who know my parents probably see them very clearly in me!
It was a fun day of talking and making plans to help each kid. I found myself caring even more about my students after meeting their parents; the experience makes school feel more like a community that includes students, teachers, and parents. Honestly, I think conferences should happen more than once a year — maybe once a quarter — just so parents and teachers can track the students’ progress together.
My good friend, Julianne, had her students run the parent-teacher conferences when she was teaching sixth grade, which I thought was awesome! I would love to do that when I have my own classroom again.
If you’re a teacher or a parent, what do you like about conferences? How can teachers make them better?