The worst parent-teacher conference everKristen Howerton
I have positive feelings towards teachers. My mom is a teacher, my mother-in-law is a teacher, and most of my siblings are in education. My kids have been blessed to have incredible teachers thus far . . . each year we’ve been blown away by the kindness and concern our teachers have shown our children. This year, though . . . this year was a lesson in Not Taking Good Teachers for Granted. One of our kids have a teacher who was not the best with interpersonal communication. Here’s a transcript of our last parent teacher conference. Some of this may be exaggerated for comedic effect . . . but the gist is all there.
HIM: What do you want to talk about?
US: We just want to get an overview from you on how he’s doing.
HIM: How do you think he’s doing?
US: We don’t know. That’s what we want to know. How is he doing?
HIM: Well, what areas of concern do you have?
US: Um . . . how is he doing with reading?
HIM: How does he do with reading at home?
US: He seems to struggle. Is that true at school?
HIM: Well, you see the work he brings home. Does it look like he is doing his best?
US: I don’t know. We’re here so you can tell us.
HIM: When I send home a worksheet that is only half completed and he had ten minutes, what do you think?
US: As I mentioned to you in a few emails, when you send work home and write “Is this his best work?” on the page , we really need you to be a little more direct. Could you maybe tell us what he should be doing and give us specific interventions? We don’t know how much should have been completed at school. We really need more information from you.
HIM: Well, at this stage he should be doing well with CVC words. Is he reading CVC words at home?
US: We don’t know what you mean.
HIM: Short vowel consonants. Does have books at home with CVC words?
US: We think? He has 100’s of books.
HIM: But are they comprised of high frequency words or CVC words? Is he just memorizing high frequency words?
US: I don’t know.
Is there a particular book list that we should be pulling from? If you tell us, we will buy any books you recommend. What can we do at home to help his reading?
HIM: (Awkward silence)
HIM: Let’s look at his journal. (Opens journal to a picture and sentence) Does this look like he’s meeting his potential?
US: Um, we don’t know. We’re not kindergarten teachers. We don’t know where he should be. We’re looking to you as the expert.
HIM: Well, tell me what you see when you look at this journal page.
US: Again, we’d really love for you to tell us what YOU see.
HIM: (Shows us more pages) Does this look like his best work?
US: WE DON’T KNOW .WE AREN’T TEACHERS.
HIM: (Shows us a blank page) This could be because he chose not to complete his work. Or he might have been absent. Which do you think it was?
US: Um, not sure.
HIM: (Turns to another sentence/drawing) How about this page? What do you think of his work on this page? What do you see here?
US: We’re uncomfortable with the way you are not answering our questions, but just asking questions back to us. Could you be more direct?
HIM: Okay. What are you concerned about?
US: Can you just give us some feedback on how he is doing? Generally? Usually in parent —teacher conferences the teacher gives us a broad overview of strengths and weaknesses.
HIM: What do you see as his strengths and weaknesses?
US: We’d love to hear that from YOU.
HIM: Well, you can look at his report card. (Passes us report card.)
US: Do you want to talk us through it?
HIM: Do you need me to talk you through it?
US: No. I mean, I guess not. Just, usually that’s what happens when we’ve does these before. So, just generally, could you maybe speak to any areas of concern?
HIM: What are your areas of concern?
US: (Brains exploding) Why don’t we talk about math. How is he doing in math?
HIM: How does he talk about math at home?
US: He doesn’t talk about math at home.
HIM: Interesting. He is very enthusiastic at school. Why do you think that is?
US: Well, he’s probably more interested in playing than talking about math. But he does do his computer homework at home.
HIM: And how does he do with that?
US: He doesn’t love doing in.
US: Okay, but can you tell us how he’s doing AT SCHOOL? We are feeling a little frustrated that you aren’t answering our questions.
HIM: What questions do you have?
US: How is he doing with math? Is he meeting his standards?
HIM: He’s not meeting his full potential.
US: What does that mean? Can you be more specific?
HIM: (Awkward silence)
US: You are being a bit evasive and vague. Honestly it’s feeling a little weird. We’ve not experienced a conference like this before.
HIM: Okay. Well most people come in and want to talk about their child.
US: We DO want to talk about our child. That’s why both of us are here. We feel like we aren’t getting any information from you.
HIM: I feel like you aren’t giving me any information.
US: What information do you need? We want to hear how he’s doing at school. You aren’t giving us feedback beyond asking us questions. Every question we ask is turned back to us. It feels a little passive-aggressive.
HIM: I don’t know what passive-aggressive means.
US: Evasive and hostile.
HIM: (angry silence)
US: We don’t know how to read you right now, but we need to end this year well. We just want to make sure our kid is on track. He seems to be struggling. English is his second language. We’re not sure that he is conceptually grasping everything he’s learning. He seems confused a lot, and doesn’t seem to connect well with phonics.
HIM: Well. Now you’ve finally addressed an observation of your son. I’m glad to hear it. That’s something I have a lot to say about. I wish you would have said that from the beginning.
US: WHAT? If this is something you have a lot to say about, why didn’t you lead with that?
HIM: Because I let the parents lead in my conferences.
US: Yes, and we asked you for feedback. We didn’t realize there was some magic code we had to unlock before you would open up! Can you please share your thoughts on this?
HIM: Look, I am with him 6 hours a day. There is so much I could say about this but we are out of time.
US: EXACTLY. YOU ARE WITH HIM EACH DAY. You are the expert on how he is doing at school. We are looking to YOU to tell us. If you have these observations WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY IT FROM THE BEGINNING!?!?
HIM: Like I said, I like to let the parents lead and bring up any concerns.
US: Our concern, at this point, is that you are being indirect and just wasted 30 minutes in some kind of rhetorical question game.
HIM: Well, I am happy to address your concerns in another conference.
US: Fine, we will reschedule.
US (once out of his earshot): WHAT THE $^@# WAS THAT!?!?!
Seriously . . . this meeting goes down as one of the most frustration encounters I’ve ever had. What do you think the deal is? My husband thinks he was being evasive and passive-aggressive because he doesn’t like us personally. I think he just simply didn’t have the answers to our questions and was using the question game to deflect from the fact that he was unprepared. But then we’ve both wondered — is this some kind of Socratic method that teachers are learning that went horribly, horribly wrong?