Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Meeting of the Minds

Tonight on my personal hit parade of pain-in-the-ass parental activities was that semi-annual torture known as parent-teacher conferences. As the parent of a freshman, the venue was new, but the exercise as a whole was as annoying as always. What lessons can I share from my side of the table?

1. When in Doubt, Bullshit
With each teacher I met, I would introduce myself, tell the teacher my child's name and which hour her class was. One teacher flipped through the appropriate files, engaging in random chit-chat while looking for the grade sheet. Once found, this teacher looked it over and summarized the information that was clearly printed. On the sheet. In front of me. As if I were unable to read English and decipher points and percentages listed in tidy columns. When the teacher's remarks never got any more personal than pointing to random scores I got the sneaking suspicious this educator had NO IDEA who he was talking about. Sure enough, TeenTuna told me he didn't know the names of any of his students, and that he calls everybody "you guys" or "that kid". NICE.

2. When in Doubt, Justify
In the most troublesome class, I was prepared to sit down and brainstorm some ideas for improving scores. Once I acknowledged that TeenTuna was struggling, the teacher's response? "Well, some kids are doing worse." Guess what? THAT DOESN'T MAKE ME FEEL BETTER.

3. No Excuses - part 1
One of the difficulties of parent-teacher conferences is I'm a team of one and constantly have to play line roulette. Which line is going to move more quickly? Do I suck it up and stay in the slowest moving line to get it over with, or do I zip through several less-busy lines in the hopes that the slow line will be less congested later? Two-parent teams are able to divide and conquer, hedging their bets among several lines. Me? It's like the grocery store. Once I've selected a checkout lane and unloaded half my groceries, there's nothing left to do but grumble if a new lane suddenly opens up. Parent teacher conferences are 98% standing around waiting your turn while waiting for either death or dinner (whichever comes first). It's one big exercise in hurry up and wait. So, when I finally reach the promised land of the chair on the other side of the card table, the last thing I want to hear out of the always-seated teacher is, "What time is it? I'm really tired." Hey guess what? Me too. But one of us at this table is getting paid for this exercise, while the other has been standing in lines in a stuffy high school gym for upwards of two hours.

4. No Excuses - part 2
At one table I decided to ask about a particular writing assignment. I got a look that made me wonder if I had asked about the opportunities for goat sacrifice instead of asking about Homeric inspired personal essays. The answer was a very terse, "No. I have 90 students." Oh. sorry. I mistakenly thought my child was one of them. Which way to the goats?

5. Cherish the Gems
There are some teachers that are absolute gems. Those would be the ones who know your child. Who appreciate your child for who they are as well as for the work they have done. Who are invested in their subject matter and their students. Who care about what is being taught, how it is being taught, and how it is being learned. Teachers like you are easy to spot and an absolute pleasure to talk to. I am so grateful that TeenTuna has several of you this year. It has made her high school experience a positive one. To you I offer my sincere thanks. You get an A+

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