Here’s What Teachers Really Want to Tell You At The Parent Conference

Posted: October 29, 2012 in From Student to Teacher
Tags: , , , , ,

For those who make remarks about all the vacation time teachers have off, and how it justifies the lousy salaries they receive, think about this:

The average American 9-to-5er leaves the office, and the other part of their lives become front and center.

For the average teacher, however, when the bell rings, his/her day doesn’t end.  On any given day, there may be a faculty meeting scheduled, unpaid working hours.  However, if the teacher is fortunate enough to not have a faculty meeting, she will have to finish grading the work she couldn’t get done during her lunch break, or planning period.  Once that is completed, the teacher must prepare the board for the next day of school, review her lessons, and prepare to go to the long line at the copy machine, of other equally exhausted teachers who will be too busy dropping their kids off in the morning to take the risk that the copy machine might be available.

So they wait.  Some days, the teachers stand there, like recent suspects at the county jail, awaiting their mug shots to be taken.  On a Monday, it is entirely possible that friendly conversations may still ensue, chit chat about the weekend and, “Hey, did you watch the Falcons game yesterday?”

But by Wednesday afternoon, the head is aching, the limbs are weary, and all the teachers want to do is go home.  “Is it Friday yet?” someone will venture to say, only to be met with commiserating grunts.

While they are at the copy machine, another teacher down the hall has been waiting for 35 minutes for the parent to show up for their conference.  He has called twice, only to be told that mom is “on the way.”  He watches the clock ticking, wondering if he can squeeze in a power nap, and if he would have enough time to wake up and wash his face before the parent’s arrival.

Still not being paid.

Mom marches down the hallway towards the classroom with the door open and the teacher at the copy machine summons up a half-smile and a polite “Hello” before thanking God she didn’t have that conference today.

Back in the classroom, mom sat down in the designated chair, and with no apology for her tardiness, she proceeded to list on her fingers the problems, as she saw them.

1. “My son says you don’t like him.”

2. “My son says you give too much homework.”

3. “My son has a 504 plan and you are not meeting his modifications.”

4. “My son hasn’t passed any of his unit tests because he says you can’t teach.”

5. “My son plans on becoming a neurosurgeon and an entrepreneur and you’re not preparing him for his bright future.”

The teacher takes a deep breath, forces himself to don a neutral, and empathetic countenance, and proceeds to explain himself, placate the mother, and escape with both of his testicles still intact.

“I’m sorry to hear that your son feels this way…”  [This was one of the tips in Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People; I believe it falls under habit #5.]

“But let me assure you, I have never done anything that would suggest I don’t like your son. In fact, I really like all my students,” the teacher continues.  But mom interrupts with,

“Oh, so are you calling my son a liar?  We’re Christians and we don’t lie!  I raised my son right!” begins the irate mother, who proceeds to take her long, miserable day out on the teacher.

The Parent Conference

What follows is what this teacher wishes he could say to a parent like this:

Ma’am, I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy day to meet with me about your concerns.  It’s always a step in the right direction when we can work together to resolve concerns.  I try my hardest to meet each of my student’s  needs, with the goal always being their success.   Let me try to discuss each of your primary concerns.

I’m sorry your son feels that I don’t like him.  I really enjoy teaching high school seniors.  I love their sense of humor, their frankness, and the discussions we have in this Honors English class.  However, your son doesn’t give me, or himself for that matter, a chance.  He prefers to sit in the back of the room and use his cell phone until I tell him (at least three times each day) to put it away.  He does not take part in any class discussions and the one time I tried to engage him, he gave me the finger and told me to “fuck off.” 

That’s the reason he was written up the first time.

Nevertheless, I sense that your son has a great deal to offer the class if he were to try.  How do I know?  Well, we write in personal journals twice a week, and the one entry he made this year was a very heartfelt and intriguing comment on an article we read about how technology is killing societal interaction. 

Furthermore, this is an Honors class and homework is expected on a regular basis, whether it is at home reading, studying, or writing.   I only assign homework that is vital to the curriculum and/or as part of a major essay.  I also assign homework which will enable revisions of written work.  I try not to assign any homework over the weekend because I know how busy seniors are these days.  

According to my grade book, here’s your printed copy, your son has only completed one assignment out of eighteen tasks.  I even let students to turn it in one day late for partial credit.  Your son has never attempted to use this option either.  

Regarding your son’s 504 plan, it calls for preferential seating towards the front of the class, but he refuses to sit in his assigned seat.  I cannot stop class for ten minutes to deal with this battle, so I have given in and I make the offer at least once or twice each week for him to sit near the front of the room.  It also states he should have the option of a separate setting environment for tests.  I have made arrangements with the person who would give him the test, but he refuses to go.  On test days, he moves his seat closest to the student with the highest average in class, and spends the entire time trying to cheat from her.  I have sent him out of the room to the office twice now for the same offense.  

Perhaps on test days, I can notify you in advance, and YOU can come to school and sit with him as he takes his unit tests.  Maybe then he will not attempt to cheat.  Or maybe, just maybe, he will actually use the study guide I have provided for him a week before the test, instead of leaving it under his desk as he normally does.

Your son may say I can’t teach and he’s right.  There are some days when I can’t teach, because there are so many student disruptions during class.  On an average day, in this honors class, I have to send at least three girls to the office for skirts so short the class can see their thongs, or cell phone use in class, or students who need to use the restroom, or administrative interruptions, intercom interruptions, and other issues.  It is very hard to keep engaging students into a discussion of the role of medieval women in Chaucerian literature when these things occur.  

Finally, I would like to say the same thing to you that I tell my entire classroom full of students.  Life is about more than a text message, more than Twitter updates, more than the cell phone.  They may need to read literature that was written hundreds of years ago, but it will broaden their perspectives, force them to think about the sublime, learn how to debate, see the relationships between people, and communicate effectively.  The literature amounts to the tools that make a person ready to face whatever life has to throw at them, and it is incumbent upon each of them to embrace all of it, just as I did, just as you did as their parent.  

Your son is now 19 years old and it’s time he stood up on his own two feet, and if he has concerns, I would be glad to sit down with him and find the best solution for everyone.  My job is his success, and I can’t do it without him.  

Thank you for your time.

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