This past week we had parent-teacher conferences at my school. I always dread the day because it takes so long and it is emotionally draining. We are supposed to schedule the conferences for 10 minutes each and basically do 5 hours of conferences with a "break" in the middle. This never really works out. First of all, I always find myself behind schedule after just the first conference because they take at least 20 minutes each, especially with the group I have this year.
Here is how a typical conference might go: It usually starts out with me talking about the academic progress of the child from September until now. I show examples of work from the beginning of the year and recent work to talk about the progress (or lack thereof in some cases). I then show the parents the report card and in many cases explain why the "Promotion-in-doubt" box has been checked. The parents usually ask questions like "How can I help at home?," in which case I give them concrete examples of how they can support their child. I then explain the parent survey in the green envelope and how their feedback is important and how they need to send it in the mail and send them on their way.
Unfortunately, not all conferences go this way. In many cases, parents become defensive and insist that they have seen progress and that I am mistaken. At this point, I show them examples of books their child is reading and books that are at grade level and explain the difference. Sometimes parents cry and I have to give them the time to explain why their child isn't progressing. Many times it is a story of parents in the process of separating, custody battles in which the parents spend their time at court and not with their children, delinquent teenagers at home, spouses in jail, families torn apart by immigration, homelessness and living in shelters, etc. For many parents, this is the only time where they can talk about these things in a private and confidential place. I feel like their therapist, reaching for the box of tissues, and affirming that life is hard, but that we need to work together for their child. Sometimes I offer gentle suggestions for busy working moms. I might say something like "you don't need to give you full attention to your child when they are doing their homework, just set up a quiet place for them, or have them do it at the kitchen table while you are cooking. Tell them to do everything that they can by themselves first then help them for a few minutes after they have done everything else." Many of them cheer up when they realize that maybe we can do something, but what I can't do is change their lives. I'm always left with a heavy heart.