Friday, April 8, 2011

Holy moly, I'm bored.

So, one of the glorious duties expected - nay, demanded - of teachers is to be available for some ungodly long chunk of time at least once a year for parent/teacher conferences. At the elementary school level, I gather that teachers share developmental and social concerns, review the adorable activities and projects that they do, and generally fuss over who the kid is and who everyone wants him or her to be. This might be difficult for a teacher to pull off for 20+ kids in the span of one night, but there is a crucial difference between the parents of elementary students and the parents they become once those little darlings cross the border into middle and high school.

At the high school where I worked for the 2009-2010 year, parent/teacher conferences ran from 2:00PM to 7:00PM one night, then 12:00PM to 4:00PM the next day. They were supposedly "student-led," which basically meant that the kids were supposed to show up and talk a lot. (Few kids showed up, and of those who did, even fewer said more than a few words.) Parents scheduled a twenty minute block of time through the ladies in the school office, so we didn't even know who was showing up until the day of conferences.

Inevitably, it was the parents of kids who basically don't need adult intervention in their education who showed up. One parent (whose daughter had never earned less than a 95% on any assignment, and who behaved almost unrealistically perfectly) spent his twenty minute conference - and my next two appointment blocks, which otherwise would have been my only free time in the day - telling me all about the problems with the American legal system. His wife, I gathered, was attempted to bamboozle him out of his every possession as they divorced, and her "crooked" lawyer was allowing this to happen. Honestly? Is this my business? I think not.

Sometimes parents of kids who really needed some parental support would actually show up. One such mother sat across the table from me, grunted as I shared my observations, then told me that her kid was probably never going to amount to anything anyhow because of his asshole, alcoholic father. Another set of parents did truly seem to care, and were even receptive to the idea of tutoring or an extra study hall to help their daughter get up to speed, but they only realized in the nineteenth minute that they were talking to an English teacher, not math, and instantly lost interest.

Sure, it is awesome to share with caring, involved parents how wonderfully their child is benefiting from their obvious support and guidance. It is a truly beautiful moment when the downtrodden parent who tries his or her best to do right by their kid (despite divorce, poverty, illness, etc...) realizes that their child has grown into an accomplished and dynamic human being. Even when the kid is really struggling, it makes my heart soar to see parents who are ready to buckle down and help in any way they can. Do you know how many times I have been involved in one of these situations? I don't think I even need both hands.

Parents of high schoolers are notoriously checked out, whether it be because they want to let their kid "be an adult" (I call shenanigans on unguided relinquishment of responsibility), because they have just stopped putting forth the effort as a parent, or because something else in that adult's life takes priority status. Parents of middle schoolers are somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, they are still involved...sorta...but they are also somewhere on the road to either giving up or letting go.

Yesterday, I was stranded in my classroom for six and a half hours for "student-led conferences." In this case, they actually were student led! Maybe it's the natural enthusiasm that lingers in middle schoolers from their elementary days, or maybe it's that age's lingering desire to please parents and other adults they respect, but every single one of my kids who showed up yesterday sat down, pulled out the reflection sheet they'd prepared in class with me, and talked their parents through their strengths, weaknesses, successes, and failings with (mostly) great detail. Put simply? There was basically no reason at all for me to be there. I stood and awkwardly observed these conferences happening before me, and essentially served no purpose but to look up grades if someone asked me to.

I was bored. Really bored. As a teacher, it's not uncommon to do things that are in and of themselves unexciting, like discuss the conversion to a standards-based teaching and learning system with a bunch of teachers who still think not performing and enunciating the pledge of allegiance perfectly is a detention-able offense. In a situation like that, I know I am serving some purpose, even if that purpose is just to be a body in the room possessing an specific opinion. At these conferences, a cardboard cutout of myself might actually have been more effective; parents would have been able to see and recognize my face, and I wouldn't have given off awkward vibes while I hovered over them.

Batman, I can promise you that I will always go to your parent/teacher conferences, even if you don't want me to. As a teacher, I know that your teachers will probably dread conferences with me more than other parents (teachers are often aggressively wary of one another), but that's all the more reason for me to show up and show your teachers that I have high expectations for you and them.

If we ever encounter something like this "student-led" business, you can bet I'll be there, but I'll also bring a sudoku puzzle or something for your teacher. Yesterday, I resorted to scouring the internet for pretty clothes, reading up on completely fluffy world news, and (after cleaning and organizing my classroom as best I could) chatting online with a handful of people who seemed shocked that I had so much free time on a school day. Put simply, I'll acknowledge that teachers are human beings, too, not just cardboard cutouts. Maybe I'll even bring a cardboard cutout of your teacher so she or he can sneak off for a quick nap...

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