Tag Archives: parent teacher conferences

A Parent Teacher Conference I’ll Never Forget

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Meaningful Moments

parent teacher conferenceI 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.

She paused.

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.

Guess What?

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

TEACH…To Change Lives

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Questions from Parents

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Questions Teachers Hate

Dauna age 8From the time I was eight years old, I knew I wanted to become a teacher.  There were, however,  hurdles along the way.  I was the first person from my family to go to college so my parents couldn’t help me much with advice. But an even bigger challenge loomed.  I didn’t have much money.  In fact I had only enough money to attend college for two years and a teaching degree required four years of study.   Even that money had to be borrowed from the credit union. I was terrified that I would have to drop out of college without finishing;  so I formulated a plan.  My plan was to get a four year degree in two years.  That was a pretty ambitious goal at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  Miami has a reputation for academic excellence and colleges don’t make classes easy to schedule.  However, without any options and possessing quite a bit of personal drive, that is the path that I chose.

I had just turned twenty when I began teaching in my own classroom.  Some people believed I looked Dauna age 20younger than twenty.  You be the judge.  This is a photo taken of me the year I began teaching.  I had worked hard for my degree and I was as passionate and committed as a young teacher could possibly be.   I remember those days well.  I was so excited about my new role, I even recall missing my third graders when they went outside for a ten minute recess.  More mature teachers learn to look forward to those brief interludes.  But I adored wearing this new role that I had dreamed about for so long.

Parent Teacher Conferences

On conference days I was enthusiastic about sharing all that I knew with parents.  I couldn’t wait to tell them cute stories about their children and give them advice on how to help their children at home with school work.  But soon I started hearing those two dreaded questions.  I grew to hate these annoying questions.

How old are you?   (They would challenge me).

And even more insulting I believed:   Do you have children of your own?

How dare they ask me those questions?!

It felt rude and, frankly, condescending.

Why would they pose such undiplomatic questions?

Then Came the Birth of Understanding

birth of understanding

After seven years of teaching, I had a child of my own.  POW! (As Emeril would say).  The realization began to dawn.  My first-born was a swift and dynamic teacher.  What? Parents don’t have total control over their children?  Sometimes parents, no matter how honorable their intentions, have close to no control. The wisdom of my degrees and college professors began to be tested, disputed and sometimes even decimated by my own children.

My perspective did a complete about-face.  I slowly began to be embarrassed about all that unequivocal advice I had doled out to experienced parents.  This blog post is my written apology to all the parents I advised before I became a parent myself.  Forgive me.  My intentions were good, but I was viewing a three D movie without the benefit  of special glasses.

Make Parents Your Allies

listen to parentsThis is what I have learned-the hard way- from becoming a parent.  If you want to double or even triple your effectiveness with your students, enlist the help of their parents.  Listen to them.  Give them opportunities to share what they have already learned about their children.  It took me time and experience to learn ways to do this, but it tripled my effectiveness as a teacher.   Here are strategies that worked for me.

1. When I taught very young children, preschool, kindergarten or first grade, I tried to schedule a conference at the very beginning of the school year.  Some years those were home visits.  I called this the “You Tell Me” conference.  I asked questions about their children and I listened.  I wrote down their advice and consulted it frequently.  I found out what was on their minds before I began working with their child. They told me their concerns and strategies that worked with their children.  This information was invaluable.

One time a mom told me that her 3-year-old twins had escaped from more than one child care situtation…actually run out the door to the outside… even into the street.  I thought smugly that would never happen in my environment.  Know what?  It DID happen when their parents were in the room and in charge of their twins on my Orientation Day.  I had to have a staff member posted at the door every day for the remainder of the school year to make sure it didn’t happen again.  Oh how those twins maneuvered and tried to escape!  Houdini himself would have been impressed at their antics. Imagine what might have transpired had I not listened to their parents’ advice first?

2. At parent teacher conferences, get the parent to talk first.  Too often these time slots are short and the teacher rushes through the test scores, grades, behavior issues and upcoming events and assignments filling all of the time that was supposed to include two-way conversations.  Ask questions first.  “What is Courtney saying about my class?” is a good starting point.  “Do you have any concerns and questions for me?”  Start with the parent.  If the parent comes into the conference with a burning concern and the teacher talks through the entire allotted time, the “conference” is a failure.  Sometimes when I ask parents what is on their mind, they stare at me.  If I say, “Describe your child’s strengths and weaknesses,” they’ll begin to speak.

3. In upper elementary grades all the way through high school we teachers host evenings we call curriculum nights or grade level meetings.  The parents come to school and travel to all their child’s classrooms following their schedule for the day.  Teachers repeat the requirements of their class, distribute a syllabus,  and often list consequences for late assignments, failure to bring materials and other infractions.  Teachers hate when parents try to ask how Johnny is doing on a night like this when other parents are standing around listening to what should be confidential conversations.

Here’s what I learned to do.  I had parents pick up index cards as they entered the room.  On those cards I asked them to write answers to 3 questions I had already written on the screen in front of the class.  Those 3 questions were

  • What is your child (or teen) saying about my class?
  • Do you have any concern about your child that you would like to share with me?
  • What can I do that will most help your teen this year?

When I finished my quick presentation about my class, I’d ask anyone if they wanted to share one of the comments on their cards.  Almost always I would get a humorous comment or a comment about how my class was their child’s favorite class.  But the parents with concerns now had an avenue to share those concerns with me without doing so in front of others.  Parents left those cards with me.  I read them immediately (always that night) and called parents who had concerns the very next day.  Almost always they were astonished to hear from me.  But what a message it conveyed. “I care about the parents’ opinions and concerns.  I respect the parents’ input.  We are a team working in the best interest of their child. I recognize the value and insight a parent can contribute to the learning process.”

Teachers don’t do their best teaching in a vacuum.

Great teachers use all the resources available to them.

Parents should be at the top of that list.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Now available at Amazon.com