Thursday, October 20, 2016

Parent Conferences from the point of view of the introverted teacher

Today I began the first day of a week of teacher/parent conferences.  I usually don't enjoy these conferences, although I know they must be done and they are necessary and beneficial for student progress.  It's just that the first ones of the year are exhausting to me!  Its the first time I meet a majority of my students' parents.  I am a huge introvert so you probably now can see where I am coming from.  I like parents and I enjoy discovering what makes my precious students tick, but it just takes so much energy out of me to do the discovering.

The first parent will enter the classroom and we will shake hands, introduce and greet each other, and then make some type of small talk before we get to the issue at hand.  I hate small talk!  But I know its what needs to be done to open the parent up to discuss their child's progress and behavior in the classroom.  I know that building the teacher/parent bond is a huge factor in a child's success in school.  The problem is that the first conference of the year is when many parents come into the class, full of mistrust.  They don't know me yet and they don't know what to expect from this meeting.  Many have had bad experiences in the past with either their students' previous teachers or their own teachers when they were in school.  So when many enter, I have to work my hardest to put them at ease and let them know that I am on their side and that we are a team.  Again this takes energy from an introvert such as myself, but I know that besides being a component of my job description, it will pay off throughout the year.

Another reasons that these first parent/teacher conferences are difficult for me is the news I have to deliver.  I teach in an inner-city school with 95% of the students receiving free lunch.  Many of these students unfortunately are not working at grade level, and actually many work at levels far below grade level.  I don't know why, but it seems to be surprising news when I give the parents this notice.  Many are shocked and do not know why this has happened.   I don't know if the previous teachers didn't tell them, or if they sugar-coated the truth, or maybe the parents just were only able to hear what they wanted to hear.  I tell them with as much tact as possible and I make sure to tell them how together we can lift their child up and help them soar, but it will be work for all parties involved, teacher, student, and parent.  I also make sure that I praise the positive aspects of the child's skills and abilities.  I really work for this parent/teacher bond and newfound partnership!

It is really interesting actually to have a good sit down, get to know you talk with my parents.  You can find out so much valuable information that can help you teach each individual student.  For example I always hear of a couple divorce proceedings every conference.  This is something, that although very personal and painful for the family, helps me to better know how to handle changes in behavior and attitude.  I've seen that many children that are experiencing the effects of divorce proceedings act out in one way or another.  If I know what's going on at home, I will definitely deal with these behavior changes differently than if I think the student is just testing me.  I feel very bad when I discipline a child for bad behavior and then later find out that there is a serious reason behind it, and a counseling session would have been so much more beneficial.   So this type of information that usually comes out during conferences is very necessary.

I also find out who is being mistreated or bullied in the class.  A lot of the times children won't tell me that they are having problems but their parents will definitely share the news, and we can devise a plan to prevent any further harm from happening.  Parents will also tell me tidbits about their children, such as who is playing soccer, or taking dance, or playing piano.  This helps me build further bonds with my students as I can talk to them about their personal lives away from school.

So, in conclusion, parent/teacher conferences are exhausting for me!  But after the day is over, and I'm home relaxing in front of a good Netflix program, I'm glad that I did it.  I know that the worst is over because now I know the parent, and the parent knows me.  Now we have started to build trust between us about the little person that is so very important in both of our lives.  I also know that the next conference will be so much better!  Students almost always progress in my class, so even if I have bad news to tell, there is always the positive that there is growth.  And really in my grade book, growth is the only grade that matters!  (I do wish our school's report cards reflected the same mindset!)  :)

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