Chuck Brooks' column: It's time for conferences
We’ve reached that point in the new school year already where the teacher works from 7 until 3, and then hangs around for conferences that start at 4 and run until 8. For those of you new to the system, there are also conferences from 7 until 10 the next morning. However, this isn’t a public service announcement. I’m just sayin’.
This will make 32 years of conferences for me. In that time, I have had a wide range of experiences regarding the tri-annual “parent-teacher conference.”
When I began here, we had workshops on the morning of conferences. Then we had lunch, but by 1 that afternoon, we would sit in the student center for eight incredibly long hours.
Whose idea was that? I was younger then, so naturally, it didn’t faze me like it would today. However, when I think about that being the way it was, I’m incredulous. How did we do that?
I remember my first set of conferences. I talked, and I talked, and I talked some more. The next day, I was feeling terrible, and I went to urgent care, only to discover for my first time, I had acquired strep throat. A disease totally foreign to me until then. I’ve had it three times since.
I remember one conference from my first year where a dad and his daughter sat down at my table. I was just beginning to learn the ropes about everything, including how conferences worked. The dad wanted to know what it was we did in speech dynamics. So, I explained to him the class’ objectives with the various tasks students were asked to complete. Sadly, his daughter was more serious about her social life than her academic life. When I finished explaining to Dad the course, his reply was, “So, in other words, you do everything in your power to make the kids fail.”
What? How the…? I had a knee-jerk reaction. I replied, rather quickly, “No. Your daughter is doing that all on her own.” And then I reeled off a list of behaviors I had witnessed about the girl in my classroom. When I finished, Dad said, “Oh.” He stood up and said, “Thank you,” and he took his daughter by the arm, essentially pulling her along with him. It took me an hour to simmer down. He had rattled me for sure, but I had surprised myself with my spunky retort.
One of my most memorable moments in my career came during conferences. A mother of a young man sat down at my table. Her son was a senior. I had taught him three years earlier, but I was in close contact with him in the years that followed because he was in theater. I also had come to know his parents well. Awesome people all the way around.
Mom sat down and said, “I know doesn’t have you anymore, but since you work with him in plays, I wanted to ask you a question.” I had no idea what was coming, but I sure didn’t expect what I got. I had cast her son as an animal in my children’s show I was directing here. The kid was earnest enough, and he didn’t have to speak, so I wanted him to have this opportunity to be on stage. “In your opinion, will ever be anything more than a ‘chorus member’ in a show? Is he likely to get a more major role?” Holy Toledo. I didn’t see that coming.
I had to be honest. The kid had musical talents with the instrument he played. He was one of only two students in our building, in our district, in our state who had achieved an academic landmark in his senior year. She had so much to be proud of. I wish she would have just accepted the fact his theater days were not going to garner him as much attention. “Well, he’s a great kid. As he is now, however, I suspect he’s more likely to blend into the large group scenes with few lines.” What was I supposed to say? At that moment, Mom began to lose her battle to keep the tears at bay. I raced to another teacher’s table to snare a Kleenex box. It all ended fine, but I felt bad. I’m sure he’s more than successful in a career now. That was many years ago.
With so much information online now, many of us are surprised conferences still exist. Often, it’s the parent of the A or B student who shows up. Many of the parents we need to see don’t come. It’s just the way it is. However, it’s a nice place to receive affirmation that what we are doing in the classroom seems to be working for some. It just makes for a long day three times a year.
Next week is MEA. The week to follow is the last full week of October. Two weeks from now, we’ll already be in November. Holy Shamoly, Batman!