It’s parent-teacher conference week at school. Optional parent-teacher conferences. Meaning, I’m not running around, making phone calls asking parents to show up and discuss their child’s school progress. They either contact me and let me know they want to meet or they don’t. Some parents think the label “optional” takes the responsibility off them and rests entirely on my shoulders. Parents assume that if I wanted to meet with them badly enough, I’d contact them and ask them to come in. I don’t do that during this week. Instead, I tell my students that I hope all their parents will make appointments to meet with me. That I want the chance to say, in person, how much I love their child and all the wonderful, fantastic things their child is accomplishing in fourth grade. And, of course, we will also talk about the less-than-fantastic things these same wonderful children are accomplishing in fourth grade.
Fifteen minutes, and some cases more, for me to talk about a child. Some of my conferences are easier than others. For some, it’s a report card full of well-earned, high marks. Praises and compliments abound. I compliment their spelling test grades, their mathematic aptitude, their high levels of respect and cooperation.
Some teachers dread parent conferences. I dread writing report cards. I don’t like making students fit into little categories, describing their efforts based on a 4, 3, 2, 1 scale. I spend countless hours in “professional development” being trained on how to teach to the whole child; how to acknowledge that our children are individuals and learn at different rates and in different methods. Yet, it all comes down to ranking them the same way. That’s why I enjoy conferences. I want a parent to know their child always raises a hand to read aloud. I want a parent to know their child does cooperate, follow directions, and relate well with others.
Call me old-fashioned, call me unrealistic, call me what you will - but I firmly believe that my students’ work habits and social skills grades are just as important as their academic grades. I don’t care if my students know their multiplication facts if they’re not kind people. So, when I’m discussing my student’s incomplete homework, I’m also discussing their consistency in always picking up trash found on the floor. When I let a parent know that a student hesitates to ask questions, I also let the parent know that the student never hesitates to offer to help me pass out papers.
We begin by teaching our children that it’s what’s inside that counts. They need to try hard, be good people, earnest citizens. Report cards don’t allow me to have that type of conversation. Parent conferences do.