Once again we find ourselves sitting in front of an array of artwork and photos, with a five-page “Child Development Profile” in our hands. Even though he’s only in preschool, it’s been the same scene twice a year for the last three years.
They offer us bagels and fruit — cookies for an evening meeting — and we chat for 15, 20 minutes about our boy. How he’s adjusting socially, any areas he’s lacking, any anecdotes that they’d like to share.
Maybe we’re luckier than most — his preschool pours a lot into those child development profiles, and they take plenty of snapshots to send us home with (Print photos! How vintage!). And throughout the years, the parent-teacher conferences have been a way to talk about real issues with real child-development experts who also fully know our child. What approach should we take with potty training? How severe is his speech delay? What kind of discipline is most effective for a 4-year-old — and more specifically, for my 4-year-old who you spend 4 to 5 hours a day with?
It’s been a way to gain insight into our child from a different angle, and it takes a village right?
But a recent series of Op-Eds in The New York Times — “Rethinking Parent-Teacher Conferences” — got me thinking about our preschool meeting and parent-teacher conferences in general.
Are they necessary?
“I’m not saying preschool conferences are counterproductive; any parent who has that 20 minutes to spare is happy to hear how adorable her child is, or to peruse a selection of that child’s scribblings. Nor am I suggesting discussing preschoolers’ progress with their teachers can never be useful. At our middle child’s pre-kindergarten conference, his teacher surprised us both with stories of our son’s frustration and unhappiness in the classroom. That honest talk led to our holding him back, a decision we feel great about today. But even in that case, I was left frustrated that we had to wait until an arbitrary date nine weeks into the school year to hear that our child was having such difficulty.”
I can understand that point, can’t you? In an age of email and text messaging — where communication can be as instant as we need it to be — why are we waiting until a set date to discuss something that can be mentioned right away? And what happens when he gets older, and we have to share our time with 25+ parents instead of a manageable 10? And then meet with X amount of high school teachers in 5-minute blocks? Are parent-teacher conferences even beneficial at that point?
I can’t even begin to understand the ways the education system will change in the next 10 to 15 years. Maybe the traditional parent-teacher conference will update to a modern, virtual meeting. But isn’t there always a benefit to face-to-face communication? To sit across from the person(s) teaching and chatting with our child for the bulk of the day — to read their facial cues and body language? To sit in the environment that your child sits each day?
Jose Vilson, a math teacher in the New York City public schools, makes a good point in his piece, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”:
“We shouldn’t look at these meetings as a way to reform our children. They simply provide the face-to-face element of a longer conversation, which starts with a letter to every child’s home, works its way through progress reports and the occasional phone call with parents, and ends with a report card.”
How much can we possibly modernize the process without losing the benefits of our most basic communication?
Do you find parent-teacher conferences to be outdated and useless?