Tonight our school will have parent-teacher conferences. It got me thinking about all of the time and effort that goes into this evening. Without further ado, here are my thoughts on PT Conferences:
If you are a parent:
Please understand that your child’s teacher truly does care about your child. They do! And if by some chance your child ended up with those rare teachers who do not care… FIND A NEW TEACHER! When you disagree with your child’s teacher or have questions, please do so with respect. In this era, teachers–right or wrong–feel under attack. Because of the internet, many parents are coming into conferences thinking that they know more about education than the teacher. But please remember that your child’s teacher is a professional–trust them! It is their job to stretch and exercise the thinking faculties of your child. This will make your child uncomfortable from time to time. This may mean that the teacher does some “weird” stuff. In the end, it is all about your child and trying to help them grow.
And also please be aware of the circumstances the teacher is facing as they enter the conference with you. Teachers are human. They have trouble with family members and spouses; they have illness; they have financial problems. In one school where I served, we would teach a full day, then have conferences from after school until 9. The following day, we would repeat. So by the time we got to the 8:30 conference on the second day, we had put in back to back 14 hour days–days in which we have to be extra careful with our words and actions. Yes, I know you work hard, too. All I am asking is for you to show some understanding. I know of one instance in which a parent berated a teacher over the phone (I could hear the yelling) and the teacher started crying. The parent then called in to the administrator to say, “I’m worried about ____.” The parent could not understand why their vicious attack would hurt a teacher. Please understand that this isn’t just our “job,” this is our calling; our vocation; our passion. We pour ourselves into our students every day.
One last piece of advice: If you have a very specific issue with a teacher, please handle it one of two ways. If you would like for the teacher to have an answer or plan on dealing with the issue when you meet for your conference, then please let the teacher know of the problem ahead of time so that they can prayerfully come to a solution. If it is something that doesn’t require an answer the evening of the conference, then share it at the conference, but–along with the teacher–come up with a time-frame for the teacher to work on the problem. Do not come in and blind-side the teacher with a problem and then expect them to come up with a good solution in the next 30 seconds. Good, reasoned solutions require some thought and planning.
So as you prepare for your conference with your child’s teacher, please pray. Pray that the Lord would grant you focus and clear thinking. Pray that the Lord would grant you patience and the right words to say in the right way. Pray that the Lord would continue to bless your child’s school year. And remember that you are on the same team.
If you are a teacher:
I’ve been there, brother. I no longer teach in a classroom. This will be the first conference season in 13 years in which I will not be meeting with parents. I know of the uneasiness that you have when you have to talk to that parent that would make a great poker player–you can never read what they are thinking. I know of the fear of facing the parent who has yelled at you in the past and started whispering campaigns against you. I know the eager excitement of having a chance to tell a parent of the great things their child has accomplished… and then the disappointment when the parent finds something about which they criticize their child. I know of the humble gratefulness you feel when a parent says “thank you.” I know of the pain you feel for the family that is struggling to hold together–when the marriage is falling apart and the facade falls during the conference and you do not have enough tissue boxes to wipe the tears of a sobbing mother. I know of the desperation you feel–“I need to do SOMETHING”–for the family at the end of their rope and THIS school and THIS classroom is the brightest thing in their lives.
I’ve been there.
Please remember that the parents you speak to are facing many other issues in their lives. The fact that they care enough to not only schedule a conference but to actually come in and keep the appointment–an appointment that follows a 12 hour work day at the end of a 60 hour week on a day when they are told their job is in jeopardy and their supervisor has chewed them out–speaks volumes to how important their child is to them. And even though the students are “your kids,” each one has individual parents who all want various things for their children. Your aspirations may not match theirs… and that is okay. God has entrusted those children to those parents for life; He has entrusted them to you for a few years.
One thing I’ve always told teachers is that you always want the first contact with home to be positive. Hopefully, you have made that first contact prior to the conference. If not, take the time to send an email or leave a voicemail. Just a little contact to help strengthen that school/home connection.
Another piece of wisdom I learned over the years: Never, ever ambush parents at the conference. If you have a problem with a student, let the parents know. If there is a bad grade coming on a report card, let them know. You know that you hate it when you are stopped in the hallway and asked to handle a serious problem of which you are just becoming aware… and now you have 15 seconds to come up with a solution! Do not put parents into that situation as well.
Be professional. You may have to share the same information 20 times at the conference. You may answer some of the same questions over and over. You will have a parent whose child receives straight “A”s and yet asks you if their child is doing well. Yes, you will see all of these things… but you cannot roll your eyes or get frustrated. Remember that for some families the school is the only place in which they hear the Gospel. Be Christ-like!
Finally, remember that the parents want what is best for their children. They may quiz you; they may question you; they may yell and complain; they may think they are much smarter than you in pedagogy; but in the end, they love their son or daughter. You are on the same team.
Dear Heavenly Father,
We thank and praise you for the gift of Your Son to save us from our sin. We thank you for the gift of our Lutheran schools and for dedicated, passionate teachers who lead our students to you. As we get into conference season, grant us patience and understanding. Lead our hearts and give us wisdom and the proper words as we work to find what is best for these children. Strengthen our relationship that, in all things, we give all glory and honor to You. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.