I taught for more decades than I care to admit. During that time I’ve probably conducted thousands of parent teacher conferences. Many of those memories run together. However possibly a dozen parent conferences stand out in my mind because of what they taught me.
One time while teaching future teachers in a Teacher Academy program at high school level, I had the opportunity to talk with Jack’s mom. Jack was a junior in my class and an all around great guy. Everyone loved Jack. This particular class happened to be dominated by girls which meant that sometimes there was female drama percolating just below the surface within the classroom. But somehow Jack could stay above it and even maintain a friendship with every single female in the class. Watching him I knew he had the diplomacy, humor and kindness to be a great teacher. He instinctively knew how to make people feel valued.
Early in the year I asked the students in my Teacher Academy to give a speech on any topic of their own choosing. I wanted them to use the Smart Board, make slides, practice speaking comfortably in front of the class so I allowed the topic to be a topic of their choice. Jack’s topic surprised all of us.
How NOT to Get a Girlfriend
As speeches go it was terrific. He had the attention of every person in the classroom. He had made wonderful slides. His premise was that girls aren’t really attracted to the thoughtful, nice guys.
- Drive them to school and carry their books from class to class….THAT won’t get you a girlfriend.
- Listen to them talk about their boyfriend’s bad habits and build up their self esteem…THAT won’t get you a girlfriend.
- Bring them a flower or buy them a dessert in the cafeteria…THAT won’t get you a girlfriend.
He went through several such examples accompanied by humorous slides. Every person in the class was laughing and attentive. They could hear the truth in his comments. When he had his audience primed and ready, Jack showed his final slide titled…
The Only Way to REALLY Get a Girlfriend
- Reach into your pockets filled with lots of money, pull the money out and say, “I have all this money to spend and I don’t know what to do with it. Do you want to go to the mall?” THEN you’ll have a girlfriend.
Needless to say it was a very effective speech for a room full of high school students. Everyone was laughing and recognizing the uncomfortable truth in some of what Jack was saying. Why do high school girls overlook some of the best guys?
The Parent Teacher Conference Continues
I love telling parents cute stories about their kids. I thought perhaps Jack had told his family about his speech at home, maybe even practiced it in front of them, but he hadn’t. As I told his mom this story I could see that she was hearing it for the first time. I was laughing but she had tears in her eyes. I was confused. I paused to let her tell me why she was upset. She was too emotional to speak so she motioned for me to continue.
I started to understand that she had bad news to share, but I went on to tell her another story about Jack. He knew even as a junior in high school that he wanted to teach junior high level. Part of my job was to procure placements within the district for my students to shadow current professional teachers. I had Jack placed in a junior high classroom. It is daunting for even adults to get up in front of junior high students and maintain control of the class. Jack was only a junior in high school, just a couple of years older than these young teens, and yet he had an instinct for handling this age group using just the right combination of firmness and humor. He impressed even this seasoned teacher. I described to his mom a class I saw him teach successfully in a junior high health class.
By now Jack’s mom had tears running down her cheeks. She was openly crying. I knew that she was going to reveal that she had a life threatening illness. I braced myself for the bad news and was thinking of encouraging things I might say in response. I waited a few beats and asked, “So why the tears?”
Here’s what she said while trying hard to control her emotions.
Mrs. Easley, Jack has two older sisters, both of whom knew exactly what they wanted to do in life. They knew what their career path would be from a young age and then went straight toward their goals. Jack has been so different from them. He didn’t seem to know what he wanted to do. In Junior High he just seemed to get off course. His grades started to slip. Things he cared about previously he just kind of gave up on. His friends changed. We have just been so worried about him. We just wanted him to find something he loved. We’ve had so many conversations about what was going to happen to Jack.
When he signed up for the Teacher Academy program we were surprised…pleased, but maybe just a little skeptical. But right now, in the past ten minutes, listening to you, I realize that Jack has found his niche. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the stories you shared with me. Jack has found his niche. It is the biggest relief to know that he has found something he loves and then to know he is good at it…it is the best possible news.
It took a lot of kleenex for her to get her story out. Her gratitude and relief was so great that she just let the tears flow.
It is one of the conferences I will never forget. I had completely blindsided her with good news. Isn’t it wonderful when a teacher can play that role? It gave me a renewed resolve to take time to share stories with parents. Conferences aren’t just about rattling off test scores and homework expectations. The very best parent teacher conferences are about listening to parents and then blindsiding them with great news and stories about their kid.
A couple of weeks ago I heard from Jack. I think of him frequently and even made an attempt to find him last summer, but failed. But only a couple of weeks ago his name popped up on my Facebook page. He now has his Masters Degree in Education from The Ohio State University. I’m impressed but not surprised. He has a long-term substitute teaching job, with a full-time teaching job possibility on the horizon. Oh, and also he coaches a junior high girls’ basketball team.
I know he is going to be great with this age group, even the ones who get a little off course…maybe especially those kids. I know he is just the kind of guy who will blindside their parents with good news at conference time.
On the days when my life has too many challenges, I think about all the wonderful kids I knew when they were aspiring future teachers. Most of them are in the classroom now or only a year or two away from it. It makes me optimistic about our schools’ future and optimistic about the teachers in front of today’s students.
TEACH…To Change Lives
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