Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Parent/Teacher Conferences - Thanks, But No Thanks

We just received notice by mail that Parent/Teacher Conferences will take place this month at our tenth grade daughter’s school.  At our high school, the scheduling, or rather “requesting” of a conference time is a multi-step process involving logging onto to the school website, using a password, asking for your most convenient time and then awaiting their response – at which point a computer randomly selects the times anyway.
I unapologetically admit to you that I have not been to one of these formal conferences, for either child, in years.  To some this may be unthinkable, so allow me to explain my position. 
I have been impressed over the years with our schools – and especially our high school.  We attend the Open House Curriculum night and of course, registration.  The teachers and other officials are always “on the ball”, things are organized and inspire confidence.  I’ve just never felt the need for the contrived “check in” of conferences.  Sure, my girls have had personality conflicts, good and not so good times academically, and a few pink slips over the years.  How do I know?  Because we talk about it, the school sends copious written and email communications, I read their reports and have never hesitated to phone or arrange a talk with a teacher, if necessary. I feel quite strongly that there is nothing you could tell me in an “8 minute maximum” sit down that I do not already know.
Also, from a teacher’s perspective, I have heard that the preparation leading up to conferences is more than one would think.  Many parents DO require detailed information, and perhaps a pat on the back for raising such a wonderful person.  Ahem.  I submit that those weeks of stressful preparation could be better served by providing extra study help, discussion groups among teachers or hell, throwing a party.  I would also support a formal meeting between teacher and student, 8 minutes in duration, to discuss their own strengths and weaknesses.  That sounds like great practice for being evaluated in a future work environment.
The first year I skipped, I remember my older daughter worrying a bit about it.  I asked her to “give me the bullet points” of the semester thus far.   As she did, a few new pieces of information surfaced.  We hashed out a plan, on paper, to make her feel more in control.  Voila -an exercise in adult problem-solving!
Look, I am not trying to marginalize teachers - quite to the contrary.  Their job is hectic enough wrangling young people all day long, checking up on their work, planning lessons and tests and meeting standardized requirements.  Not to even mention getting into teen angst and the inevitable behavior patterns of that time of life.  As I said, there must be more constructive uses for the time they would save were it not for this ritual of Conference Time.
My position is clear, and I am comfortable with it.  I welcome feedback from all sides. Here are some thoughtful questions.
-What, if anything, do you or your student get out of these meetings?
-Do you faithfully attend, no matter how inconvenient?
-Any teachers want to share how they prepare for conferences?
-Do you, as a parent, prepare in any way to meet with the teachers?
-Do you worry about the perception on your family if you do not attend?
Sound off!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Our Pets, Ourselves - Does Your Dog Bring Out the Best in You?

Dogs are everywhere.  Statistically, about 44% of American households have at least one dog – which is higher, in some counts, than have children. 
As I stare at my own two little Boston Terriers, I begin to wonder exactly what it is that is so rewarding.  I think it’s safe to say that the added expense, housekeeping, and general responsibility for another living thing should be a deterrent.  But clearly, this is not the case.  Why do we ignore the impracticalities of pet ownership?
Well, I have said on more than a few January Firsts, that “this year, I want to be the person my dogs think I am”.  That pretty much covers the ridiculous excitement that ensues every time I come home – even when I’ve been gone 10 minutes.  It can be intoxicating to be exalted, just for being you.  Then there’s the effortless companionship that comes with a day on the sofa watching movies, or spontaneous walk when no one else wants to go.  I am thankful for these things often.
But, on closer examination, two less touted reasons for the relationship with our dogs, comes to light.
  1)  They are our “forever babies”.  Unlike raising children, we have no expectation of them ever functioning independently in the world.  They do not need to have other successful relationships, earn a living, or even learn to drive.  For us, this takes all of the pressure off of the relationship, and lets the cream rise to the top.  It is something like what I imagine has been described to me as the “perfection of being a grandparent”.    We require nothing of them but to not bite, and not poop in the house.  And let’s be honest, we forgive even those things pretty easily.
2)  In the case of most dogs, the comedic element cannot be denied.  On many occasions, they do things that can only result in a genuine and spontaneous laughter.  In our home, this is held in the highest regard.  What higher calling can there be than to bring levity and being present in the moment to a household?  Dogs achieve this without even knowing it, and we respond with genuine grateful affection -never complaining about following them, in the rain, with a plastic bag.
So, next time you come home to your guileless groupie of a companion, be sure to give him or her an extra pat and a kind word.  Enjoy the unencumbered love with shameless abandon and strive to be the person your dog thinks you are. 
PS.  Here are a few fun and helpful links for dog owners.  These are vetted (no pun intended) by yours truly, and highly recommended.
Pet sitting and walking services.           Call Sharon at 630-915-6912
Fun dog items delivered monthly to your door.
Dog Grooming at Happy Tails.               9018 31st St. Brookfield IL           708-485-6976