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!

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