Thursday, November 10, 2011

All conferences are not created equal...

Yesterday I explained a little bit about the Student Led Conferences that my middle school has been doing for 14 years now. In that post, I mentioned that I would not be attending my own 6th grader's conference. Instead I emailed her teachers to make sure all was well. I know them all; my first daughter had them when she went through 6th grade. And my 6th grader is still an open book when it comes to letting her mama know what is going on at school.

I did decide, however, that I should attend conferences for my 9th grader. She's in a new building, I don't know many of the teachers (even though it is the high school I attended), and I am not sure I can count on her to tell me if there are any problems...that whole issue of growing up and not talking much to your parents anymore and all. Her conferences started today at 3:30. I had to be back at my building by 5:00 and I have about a 20 minute drive between the two.

I do not intend to offend anyone with the rest of this post. I know that the description that follows is just the way things have always been done. But I honestly believe that if schools want to get parents more involved, they need to seriously look at their conference procedures. When I arrived at the school, I picked up G's report card and went into the cafeteria. Where all the teachers were stationed. All of them. I had to find her teachers (I knew this would be a chore; that's why I made her come too.)

Once I located all G's teachers, I proceeded to wait in lines. I was in that cafeteria for almost an hour. The amount of time that I spoke with teachers: 5 minutes. Maybe. I will not attend parent teacher conferences again. The waiting was not the only thing that wasted my time. Even the 5 minutes of talk was wasted time. Why? Because all the teachers did was tell me her grade (which I could see on the report card) and give me a print-out that detailed how they arrived at their grades. Even the assignment names didn't give me any hints about what she learned.

I don't care much for grades, but if a teacher is going to give one, they ought to be able to tell me what the grade means. In one class, G received an A-. In going over the detailed report, this teacher told me, "Well it's pretty close to an A. There really isn't much she could do better." Then why the A-? is that I wanted to ask. But my real burning questions were: What is she learning? How are you assessing her learning? How are you teaching her to assess herself ? How are you making sure she maintains her curiosity and her desire for learning? What do you REALLY KNOW about my child?

Another teacher, after telling me his concern that she isn't challenged enough told G that if she needed to be challenged more, she should read more, and maybe some more challenging text. Really? I agree that she should look for ways to challenge herself. But if the class text isn't challenging enough, shouldn't there be some differentiation of instruction happening?

But the best comment of the night was from, well, I don't even want to say what subject in case people who know G and who know the teachers at this school read let's just say, from one of her teachers: "I wish I could find something negative to say but I just can't." I hope this teacher has a dry sense of humor that went over my head. I hope this teacher was saying this tongue-in-cheek, but honestly, I couldn't read him well enough to tell. But I know there are some teachers who really do look for the negatives in their students. I'd just always hoped some teachers wouldn't be my kids' teacher.

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