Friday, June 3, 2011

Parent Teacher Conferences- do I have to go?

Halloween has come and gone- and for parents of school age kids that means the dreaded (or happily anticipated) Parent Teacher Conference. Parents hope that they hear good things about their child- "Little Johnny is an amazing speller" or "Little Judy is such a sweet and considerate child." Nothing will ruin an evening faster than finding out the 2nd grade teacher thinks your child is the next Charles Manson AND they have terrible handwriting.

Teachers have a ton of work to do to get ready- all the examples of work done, their grades and explanations as to why they have them,strengths and weaknesses of each child, funny anecdotes and/or concerns that need to be addressed.  They hope that all the parents show up on time, and that one parent- (usually Charles Manson's mom) doesn't come in yelling about how it is the teacher's fault their child was attempting to light Little Judy's hair on fire because he just "wasn't being challenged".

Students with good grades and behavior love conferences, other students think of it much like a trip to the dentist  As a kid, you hope that you can keep your worlds separate… there is nothing worse than seeing your teacher and mom sharing information about you. Nothing good can come out of this awkward and uncomfortable situation.

I go to all my children's conferences. One memorable (and regrettable) was my oldest child's 8th grade year- the middle school years are the time when "speed conferences" come into play- 2-3 minutes with each teacher and then moving on. I can recall with horrible clarity when my husband and I sat down with the computer teacher- introduced ourselves as our son's parents and her reaction was "You are D.'s parents?  He is a bad boy!" I remember feeling like someone just punched me in the gut- and an overwhelming desire to say - oh- did I say "D"? No, no no- I meant (insert good student name here)" This feeling followed immediately by "Bitch- that's my kid you're talking about- back off."

The rest of his school career parent teacher conference time was one of dread and worry. I admit- I skipped out a couple of times. Slacker mom? Not so much- just a mom who hated to hear anything negative about her kid, a mom who was painfully aware of her child's issues and a mom who had a hard time holding her temper. I thought it would be best for my son if I just arranged a phone or email conversation to avoid any unpleasant (and perhaps felonious) incidents.

Then the middle child- my daughter started school. I have LOVED attending each and every one of her conferences. Always the same things- she's sweet, wonderful, a leader, great reader, perfect speller, etc.She is amazing I am so proud of her! But, to be honest - it has gotten boring. A good kind of boring to be sure- but boring.  In fact- last year when she began middle school- parents of children with all A's and B's were told they didn't even have to come. In other words-we aren't going to sing your child's praises anymore- if there is a problem we'll let ya know. No problem! Cross that thing off of the never ending to do list!

Then the youngest started school. Having an autistic child is a mainstream classroom where the teacher only focuses on what is wrong is a nightmare at conference time. During that first conference ( when he was in kindergarten) I had an almost overwhelming urge to reach across the pint size desk and pop that teacher right in the nose. The things they were focusing on- ugh- ridiculous.  Once he was placed in a different school- that all changed. 15 minute conferences turned into 20-30 minute meetings. So much was discussed I felt that I needed to take notes.  But so much was accomplished and his teachers were (and still are) amazing. 
I just attended my first conference for my youngest in a mainstream 3rd grade classroom. I was nervous. I was worried. I literally had sweaty palms and had imagined all sorts of worst case scenarios in which my child was the villain.

Of course- with a running dialog I knew better but my mind still traveled to the scariest outcomes and I had a hard time stepping back from the ledge.  I needn't have worried- the teacher was great, she explained the ways she was making accommodations when needed and gave me ideas for how to help at home. She loves my kid- and said how sweet natured he is, and bragged like a proud parent on his desire to do well in her class. I wanted to hug her- I may still buy her flowers and chocolate. Finally- a "normal" 15 minute (well- actually 21 minute) conference. No bad news, no huge worries, and I walked away feeling absolutely giddy!
So now, barring any horrible problems- I can relax for a couple more months.

The girl child has all A's and B's again- so I will probably not even be required to go. I will  go anyway- I think it's a good thing for the teacher's to know my face- gives them an opportunity to run if they piss me off.