As a teacher, I have many responsibilities. In addition to learning new curriculum, I hang art, collect picture money, give friendship advice, order supplies, make copies, apply band aids, and still manage to teach 22 young learners the needed academic subjects.
One of the most important parts of my job is meeting with families for conferences. I take this responsibility seriously and work hard to inform parents on both the progress that I have witnessed and the areas that still need growth.
Preparing for these meetings takes time and planning. I collect work samples, assessments, and unit tests. I work so that the time spent at the conference is positive and valuable. I want parents to leave knowing exactly where their child is excelling and where extra support is required.
I would be lying if I said that teachers never get nervous for conferences; however, I had no idea how unsettling conferences could be, until I sat on the other side of the table as the parent.
When my son was in first grade, his teacher contacted me on the third day of school and said that a meeting was necessary. She had some concerns and thought it was best to set up a conference. I agreed to a scheduled conference the following week, but then wasn't sure how to move forward once she emailed me three days later saying that my son "...took pleasure in causing pain for others."
I was stunned. My stomach lurched. How could I have a positive conference with a teacher that made those judgments about my son and after only six days of school? Yes, my son was socially immature and was impacted by sensory issues, but he wasn't the monster that she described.
After the shock disappeared and the frustration subsided, I made some decisions.
First, I asked the principal and the school counselor to be part of our conference. I wanted to make sure that other parties would witness the conversation. My son was a special education student and so I also requested that the special education teacher attended the meeting.
Second, despite my anger, I came to that meeting with questions and had every intention to try and work collaboratively with this teacher for the remainder of the year.
Finally, I never spoke badly about my son's teacher at home. I didn't speak about her during phone conversations with friends or family and I never let my facial expressions indicate my questionable feelings about her to my son.
Despite feeling ready to move forward, this initial conference did not go well.
After being a teacher for over 20 years, I knew that some conferences end poorly and that there are strategies to rebuild a positive working relationship.
With the help of the administrator, we worked to create rules about the frequency and content of emails that would be sent home. We agreed that there should be additional staff members included on all emails and that communication should be limited to once a week.
As the parent, I kept work samples and emails. I researched and collected information about my son's medical condition and the implications of his condition on school and social interactions. I copied pertinent articles and chapters of books that explained my son's needs.
Because I was a teacher, I knew key words that should be shared. I reminded them about their responsibility to keep his medical issues private with other parents and students and their responsibility to provide him with a fair and equal education.
Half way through the year, it seemed necessary to get a director from the administration office involved and that is when things dramatically improved. I waited too long to do this but I didn't want to be that parent; however, I needed to advocate for my son.
My scenario is not common. It is an extreme example of a teacher conference that went horribly wrong. But my unfortunate situation provides a learning opportunity for others.
If you are a parent and your conference goes badly, ask for further clarification and follow up meetings. Expect that all parties are moving forward with good intent and when all else fails, ask for outside help.
My son is in the third grade now and he still does not know how I felt about his former teacher. Although I don't understand why she said what she did, I do believe that everyone learned a lot about positive parent conferences that year.