Saturday, October 4, 2008

Parent-teacher conferences

Yesterday was parent-teacher conferences. I've known my students for a little more than a month now, and can give a pretty accurate description of weaknesses and strengths to parents. I had three Junior parents come, and was really glad to have two of them - two kids who, quite simply, aren't doing the reading so far in the class and will fail unless they change up quickly.

Ninth graded conferences, however, are invariably more dramatic. The parents come in, with their only experience of their children as students as star middle-schoolers. Going to high school is a big transition, and most of the time students have been promoted and given excellent grades without working hard and mostly by behaving. Now, in the first five weeks of high school, they have a 46% because they hardly do any work and don't understand that homework and studying are requirements.

So, yesterday afternoon was an afternoon of discussions about organization, about hard vs. working smart, about coach class, about study hall, etc. It had some tears. It had some hugs. And, hopefully, it will have some results.

Still sad that I only got about 10 parents overall, though, out of over 150 students.


A BCPSS Parent said...

It sounds like you're disappointed that only 10 parents showed up. Speaking as a parent that didn't go to any conferences yesterday there are a few things that I think would increase parent attendance on these days (most are BCPSS's responsibilities):
- Give out the progress reports at least a few days before the conferences. If I know there are problems I'll work on arranging a way out of work, but the day before or the day of the conferences just doesn't give me time.
- Half-days with a big gap between the end of school and when conferences start are logistically very difficult, as are system-wide conference days for those of us who have multiple kids at different schools.
- Appointments would be nice. I guess you didn't have that many parents, but even with only 10, if you talk to each for 10-15 min that's a lot of waiting around for the last parent, and they probably need to talk to other teachers as well.
- For kids that you're really hoping a parent will show up, maybe you could reach out to that parent. It's hard to gauge if this is something a kid can turn around and knows how to turn it around or if this is a situation where a parents input and insight and help is what's needed.

Teach Baltimore said...

BCPSS parent:

I agree there are a lot of things that could be done to increase parent attendance at conferences, such as having it in the evening. If I were Alonso, I would have made this a requirement in the last contract talks, that teachers have two evening responsibilities for conferences every year - this would be one way to increase involvement of parents.

As for your first point, our kids got the progress reports on Thursday, and conferences on Friday, so, yeah, that's not much turnaround time. But, really, it's disappointing to me that parents would only come if there are problems. My parents made it a priority to come to conferences every time even though I was an "A" student; I remember feeling happy about that as a kid, knowing that my parents cared, and, as a teacher, it's so nice to feel supported when parents - even of kids who don't have problems - show up at conferences. I just think it should be a priority; I'm spending a whole year with your kid, you should meet me and I should meet you. Unfortunately, this isn't something that is deemed important in the BCPSS culture, for whatever reason. It's nice to get an email or phone call from parents who couldn't make it, and a couple have emailed me and asked me for an update, and that's nice.

As for your second point, yes, I wish there was something to do about multiple kids - I know a few parents who couldn't go to little sister's conference because of this. Not sure how to fix that in a big school district, though.

Not sure how I'd do appointments. I have 156 students, and have no idea what parents are going to come, and imagine trying to coordinate with the 100 other teachers in my school an appointment schedule with the random parents who do show up. Attendance was so sparse, though, that I never had a wait of more than one person.

As for the last point, I definitely agree. I requested a parent conference on all these students. Still had poor attendance.

A BCPSS Parent said...

Well now I'm feeling guilty.. But I tried to have a little face-to-face meeting time at the back to school nights, and given that middle and high school teachers have at over 100 students it seems like group meetings are the only way you can see everybody. I think I counted 15 teachers that I would need to see (not counting the elementary school since we've already meet everyone there) and even at 15 min with no waiting time (that's not going to happen) you can see my problem. I could split it with the spouse, but someone needs to be at home with the elementary school age kid. So if I don't pick classes that are a problem, how should I pick who to meet? The ones who I'm told are cool? I've thought about telling a few how excited a kid is to tell me about what happened in a specific class, but honestly the logistics just made it impossible for at least this first session.

Teach Baltimore said...

Oh my gosh, I definitely didn't want you to feel guilty. You obviously are a very involved parent!

But, I don't think your estimate of 15 min/teacher is accurate. A 3-5 minute conversation tells a whole lot, and you should be able to get through one school in an hour or less. But having multiple kids is an issue that I don't think you can easily solve. I'd email those teachers you can't make it to.