The Dreaded Parent-Teacher Conference

I hate parent-teacher conferences.  Well not the conferences themselves, but the build up.  At the end of a long day of meetings with my students’ parents I always feel uplifted, empowered, and hopeful.  But the week before conferences…..I feel Iike I am awaiting the apocalypse.

Why is it always like this?  You’d think after 15 years of doing this twice a year I would view the day like any other day.

Is it the loss of control?

We teachers thrive on a controlled environment.  Our students come in everyday and sit in their assigned seats.  They take out their homework.  They raise their hands to speak.  We know how to make them be compliant.  There is a routine.  After all these years you have heard it all.  You know the kinds of questions that will be asked by your kids.  You know how to resolve the typical 8th grade conflict.  But with parents…you are not in control.  They come into the room sit down and then they ask the questions.  Yes, I can basically know what they will ask too, but what if they stray from the common questions?  Will I be prepared with an answer?  What if they get upset?  Start yelling? Or worse…..complain to the Principal.  Eeeeek!

When the last of the 60 back to back appointments are over, I am always fine.  No apocalypse.  99% of the parents leave with a “Thank you Mrs. Ralf.  Our child so loves your class.  Thanks for making learning fun.”  All parents show concern for their child’s progress and wonder how their child can improve.  Really the parent isn’t there to see me about grades.  They want to meet the other human beings that spend so much time with their kids.  They just want me to confirm for them that they are doing a good job.  They want to be assured that their kid is normal, happy, and liked by others.

Even the hard conferences work out ok.  I had a few where I had to say the tough stuff.  “Your child isn’t improving.”  Or I had to discuss behavior, “your child doesn’t seem to care about the quality of his work.”  And I had to lay down the law.  “These are the things I can do for your daughter, but I cannot write it in her planner for her.”  And even though I was discussing the uncomfortable, the parents still leave with a handshake, a smile, and “Thank you.”

So I am asking myself again..”what are you so afraid of?  Why do you get so worked up over conferences?”

Because.  There was this one time when….

….A parent said I had no business teaching anyone’s child.  I was a long-term substitute for a beloved teacher.  The student in question had been playing his mother and the situation.  He had not turned in any work.  I explained the child was failing.  She said “My son says he turned everything in.”  Well he hadn’t.  When she said she wanted to talk to his real teacher I explained she was in the hospital.  She wanted to storm into the hospital room and get proof I was lying.  When I said “Maybe you should take up your concerns with the principal” she then said I had no business teaching if I couldn’t find her student’s work.

…A parent yelled that she works hard to pay my salary (taxes) so I better work harder for her child.  I had had this student all of three weeks because she had transferred in from another school.  In those few weeks she had turned in no work.  The parent came in to discuss why her child was failing.  She explained that her daughter had no knowledge of any of the assignments.  “She says you never told her that she had to do any of that work.”  The parent later went to the superintendent.  When she got no satisfaction she called the Office of the Superintendent of Washington State schools.  The state told her it was really a local issue and to call the local district office.  I was obviously bullying her child, she demanded satisfaction, she was a tax- payer!  The child was later transferred from my class when she accused me of physically assaulting her best friend.  Unfortunately for her, the best friend said when questioned,  “Mrs. Ralf never touched me.  She’s nice.  I like her.”

….A parent who complained that she had to come to school for a conference.  Didn’t I know that she worked three jobs?  It’s her job to provide for her son, and my job to make sure he does his homework, behaves, and achieves better grades.  She was going to get fired if she had to leave work one more time to deal with one of her children.

…A parent who seemed nice during the conference but then went straight to my principal to complain that her son was receiving average grades rather than good grades because I obviously hated him.  This one surprised me since her son usually hung out in my classroom during study period and after school.  The principal’s response was “Well, Mrs. X is an equal opportunity offender.  Every year she picks a different teacher as her target.”

Ok.  Four times in 15 years of parent-teacher conferences is a pretty good track record, right?

Well there was that 5th moment…  I had a boy in a class that was performing way below his abilities.  He was a typical 8th grader but he did have a disability.   When the mother and father came into the team conference, we went around the room discussing the positive and negatives of the child’s achievement and behavior.  We all stated specific goals and ways in which we felt the boy could improve.  The mother was mad, steaming mad.  Then she lost it.   “My child has this disability.  He will never be normal.  He will never be able to do what you are asking.”  We tried to calm her down and reassure her that what we were asking for was quite doable for this boy.  This made her even more irate.  She started to cry, got up and left the room, slamming the door behind her.   When the dust cleared we realized the husband was still sitting there.  He smiled and said “Thank you for saying all of this.  I’ve been trying to tell her these things for years.  She is just mad because she knows you are right.”  He shook our hands, apologized for his wife’s behavior, and left the room.  The boy is graduating from college this year.

Again, the conferences themselves are good.  They are reassuring.  But the fear of the unknown gets me every time.

What have been some of your best or worst parent-teacher moments?

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4 replies

  1. “They want to meet the other human beings that spend so much time with their kids. They just want me to confirm for them that they are doing a good job. They want to be assured that their kid is normal, happy, and liked by others.”

    That pretty much sums it up. But I will also say that I dreaded conferences, for the boy child anyway. They don’t really do them in middle school and high school here. But in elementary school, they were pretty depressing. For whatever reason, he struggled. I don’t think it was entirely a matter of motivation, which is what his teacher seemed to think. Sometimes, a kid does care but maybe can’t quite get there. I’ve embarrassed myself twice by getting teary talking about my fears and concerns at conferences, but if the teacher won’t fight for him, you can be damn sure I will.

    In middle school, he seems to be doing better. Probably never top of his class, at least not until he finds the thing he loves to do, we just keep encouraging. Having teachers like you who give a crap makes all the difference, too, both to the kid AND the parent.

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