Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Dummies Guide to PTC

Oh, the dreaded Parent-Teacher Conference.

According to my fingers and toes, I have just completed round 21 of Parent-Teacher Conferences.  Figuring 2 a year for 13 years (don't forget Kindergarten!)  I have just passed the 80% completion rate.  Good God, this is good news.

For the single, the unitiated, or the just plain lucky, Parent-Teacher Conferences are their own special brand of torture.  It's not quite as bad in elementary school, because there you are assigned a time to meet with the teacher.  Don't think that's a big deal?  Oh, you will when you get to play junior and senior high roulette.  But more on that later.  The downside to elementary conferences (I discovered as we were nearing elementary school completion) was that the trend was pointing towards having the CHILD attend the conference with the parents.  Obviously nobody asked my opinion on that bonehead decision.  I mean, who wants their child in the same room?  The whole point is to TALK ABOUT THEM.  Share funny stories.  Laugh ABOUT them (not with them).  It's so much harder to openly communicate when you have resort to eyebrow lifts, spelling, or advanced placement pig Latin.  In fact, I used to have a bit of fun in elementary school Parent-Teacher Conferences.  The teacher would trip all over themselves praising my child up and down until I essentially gave them permission to discuss my child like the FLAWED HUMAN BEING SHE WAS.

("Flawed" may include but is not limited to: mouthy only child, precocious, admitted pain in the butt and all-around highly skilled manipulator and snake-oil salesman)

Once I gave permission for the teacher to speak freely, it was as if the weight of the world was lifted off of their shoulders.  I would simply chuckle and say, "Please.  I live with her.  I am WELL AWARE of her personality traits.

It was a sad sixth-grade kind of day when I learned that the simpler, more genteel Parent-Teacher Conference went the way of kickball, chocolate milk and recess.  Gone were the evenly spaced appointments filled with cookies, pleasantries, and macaroni art.  Now I was faced with ... THE GYM.

Conferences in the gym were a total free-for-all.  The teachers were sitting in alphabetical order around the perimeter of the gym.  At each station was a battered card table, two chairs and a pile of papers.  Parents would stumble into the gym -- much like condemned Christians at the Colosseum -- armed only with a schedule.  Where you went and who you chose to talk to was entirely up to you, but this single decision would determine whether you would be done in a half hour (score!) or spend your entire evening in educational purgatory.

Fall conferences are always trickier, because unless someone gives you the heads up, you might not know the conferencing-style of the teachers on your list.  So you wander around the middle of the gym and assess the various tables and lines.  You look at the body language of the parents currently in conference and try to determine if they are bored or anxious or in an irreversible coma.  You attempt to listen to the conference ahead of you (in a very WHAT?-I'm-not-listening-in) and try to decide if the conversation is business or pleasure.  After that you have to make a commitment, get in line, and hurry up and wait. 

This routine, sadly, must be repeated for Every. Single. Class.

It's at this point that I would like to raise an enormous NO FAIR protest banner in the general direction of married couples.  You people have it made in the shade, and it puts single parents at a distinct disadvantage.  Time and time again, while I'm stuck waiting in line, I see married couples dividing and conquering.  They pull the old "I'll wait over there while you wait over here" ploy, and when the first one makes it to Valhalla known as the teacher's table, the other one ditches their line and they conference together.  Thanks for that.  I wish I could wait for two teachers simultaneously and use my aura as a placeholder. Sadly, it doesn't work that way.  Much like the grocery store, I have to go with my gut, pick a line and stay there; all the while hoping I made the right choice.

After the wait is over, the teacher finally greets you and you tell them slowly and clearly the name of your student and what hour of the day they have that class.  I'm always amused when a teacher asks, "how are you doing?"  I really want to say, "I don't know. You tell me. How AM I doing?"  I usually end up saying "Fine."  It's boring, but true.  At this point we resume the "I love your child" festival of praise, which, while nostalgic is not terribly productive.  I love my kid too.  Now move it along, Poindexter.

Once the tete-a-tete is completed, you say your goodbyes and you're bumped back into the center of the gym like an errant pinball.  Then you survey your options, take a deep breath, commit to a new line and pray.  Lather, rinse, repeat until you have talked to all the teachers listed on the schedule and you can finally escape this layer of hell as if it were a game of reverse Red-Rover. 

21 down.  5 to go.
Red Rover, Red Rover,
send Tuna on over.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Teacher's from other school systems will tell you, to their dismay, that there is no waiting in line at their teacher conference days. Sometimes the crowd can be a blessing. I use the spouse placeholder so I can catch up with a bunch of parent's I haven't seen a a while.

This year was the first year of a Dr. Jekyll (doesn't pay attention) - Mr. Hyde (role model for the class) review at middle school. Perhaps a bit confusing, but interesting nonetheless.

Keep the blogs coming!