My husband and I went to visit Cornell this weekend, where one of our friends in finishing his PhD. While looking out at the view beneath the clock tower, we were stopped by an older couple admiring our dog.
Them: "Your dog is beautiful"
Me: Thinks "Duhhhhh. Most beautiful animal in the world. Glad everyone else sees it too."
Them: (Petting her) You're a sweet old girl!
Me: Thinks "Wait did you just call my dog old?" Fiery rage starts to burn at the proposal that my dog is anything other than a young whipper snapper who will live forever.
Anyone who knows me could guess this would be my reaction...
To all the parents who trust me with their kids everyday: thank you. I just cried leaving a dog boarding "resort." God help me as a parent 🙄— Caitlyn Gironda (@Caitlyn_Gironda) August 30, 2016
I can't help but equate this scenario to the way some parents must feel when they walk into a parent teacher conference. They are being told the way other people view their child- a true extension of themselves. I don't have children so I cannot even fathom what they must really be experiencing. I only know that no one calls my sweet puppy old!
No one has ever accused me of being underprepared, especially when it comes to dealing with parents. My first years as a private school teacher in "the crucible that is our very scrutinizing...parent clientele" (my former principal's word....in my actual letter of recommendation) trained me well to come prepared and leave with parents feeling over-informed. It also taught me a lot about being able to give constructive feedback without someone feeling attacked or criticized. Since those days, I've always seen parents as an ally- someone I want on my side. Some may not help their children's attitude towards my class, but they can certainly hurt it. If I get them on my team from the start, it's never bad news for the student.
This relationship is more difficult when a student struggles throughout the year, as many parents are at a loss about how to help their students. They want tangible things they can do to help their child or that their child can do to improve, as well as real feedback on specific struggles. With that in mind, I started using this form at each parent teacher conference:
The form leads with the positive: naming students' strengths.
I try to not only address my concerns, but also list some ideas of things students could do to make improvements. From there, I include extra help opportunities, missing assignments, and upcoming assignments. Here are 2 examples from previous meetings:
I then attach a multitude of items to this- a copy of the printout from my online grade book, a copy of the schedule for our Math Learning Center, and any other information that I want the parents to get directly from me. One of the things that I like most about this packet is that it frees parents to actually have a conversation with me, rather than frantically jot down notes. One of the other things that I love is that it emphasizes just how many opportunities for extra help the students have, which has effectively eliminated the "what are you doing to help my student" accusation that can rear it's ugly head sometimes.
A simple form, but one that's been really effective for me! New teachers, don't fear parent conferences! Just make sure you're prepared, informed, and speaking with love and respect about someone's baby!