The scariest thing that can happen to a first year teacher happened to me today…
Okay maybe not the absolute scariest thing, but pretty scary… Parent teacher conferences!
When I first heard they coming up I all but ran to Mrs. K. and asked her for help. She gave some ideas and showed me what she did for her students. I left that day with a sense of false security and a page full of notes on what she did. I say a false sense of security because as conferences approached quickly my sense of security faded. I began realizing that I was alone up against a mob of family members upset with me over thier student’s poor grades. In horror movie terms, I was about to open the door of the tool shed I’ve been hiding in, armed with a rake, and fight off a hoard of zombies ready to tear my head off.
I arrived at school a little before noon and a group of my students were walking the track during inside recess. They shouted as I came in and ran to me. The students were ones that do not always get along with me and often test my patience. It was really relieving to have them say they missed me all morning.
I sat in the office in one of the waiting chairs for a few minutes so I could check on the class dojo and see how the class was doing. I popped into my email for a few seconds and a dozen emails showed up from my students. I looked at the time and realized that it was silent writing time and during that time they are allowed to email me. They all said how well things were going and they missed me. One students simply emailed, “it’s loud in here today.”
I found my spot at the tables and got ready to face my first parents. I didn’t have to face them alone though. The special education teacher was conferencing with me. These were also parents I had met with before. Things went smoothly. Maybe this was not going to be as bad as I thought.
I won’t go into the details of each and every conference because we are talking about people’s whole lives right here and it would take volumes of books to describe the fear of first meeting each parent, the lull in that fear as I said good things about each one, the way my stomach dropped when I had to give unfortunate news, and the way my spirits perked up at the end of each conference when the parents seemed to agree with me and understand what has to be done to help thier student succeed.
One thing that saved my sanity was having the students evaluate themselves. I asked them last week to rate themselves 1-5 on how well they were doing things like listening and paying attention and turning in work. If a parent asked what the problem was and why the grades were so bad, I could simply flip over to that self evaluation and say, your student have themself a 1 on paying attention. I agree and think that this is the reason they are jot doing as well as they should.” It was a lifesaver! Not that my esteem for Mrs. K. could be much higher, but seriously that lady knows what she’s doing!
I started out worried I would be fighting parents every step of the way and that they would see it as my fault that things were not going well. Now I realize my fears were grounded in my misconception that most parents think teachers are to blame for thier student’s academic troubles. Yes, there will always be a few but this first set of conferences has taught me more than I imagined.
I am exhausted, have headache from the gym lights, need some sleep, and am really happy and enthusiastic about the coming quarter. I feel a little more like we are all in this together than I knew before. I know it won’t always feel like that and I will still struggle to get them to do thier work and pay attention and care about grades but for now I’ll ride this feeling in the wake of parent teacher conferences until it runs itself out.
I feel positive about the rest of the school year for the first time since the day I was hired and the panic of only having a week to prepare to teach a grade I have never worked with set in. I might actually be getting the hang of this teaching thing!