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Chuck Brooks Viewpoint: All sorts of theater possible at conferences

I think it's beginning to happen. I'm losing touch with my former place of employment. Yup! Another retiree who has one less year of retirement under her belt sent me a text on Thursday night, indicating the need to be smiling because we weren't at conferences. Sure enough. It was time for the first round of conferences already and I never even gave them a thought. I must be slipping away from that experience. However, her text sent me reminiscing as I thought about what conferences meant and how they changed very little over the years.

Teachers generally are not fans of conferences. They make for long days. The younger teachers have no idea how horribly long they used to be. Not the actual conferences but the length of time we dedicated to them. When I first arrived in 1982, everyone was in the student center for conferences. There'd be a half-day of workshop in the morning, and then we'd move into the student center by one and begin an eight-hour excursion into hell. That's right. Eight hours. Dear God, I remember being exhausted by the time I went home. I don't really remember, but I would assume we had a 30-minute break for dinner. In my first two years, days after the fall conferences, I would be in Urgent Care being told I had strep throat. I had never experienced strep throat in my life until those two times.

I remember a couple of specific conferences in the student center. One was regarding a young sophomore girl who had totally different aspirations than I did for her. I wanted her to be a decent and successful student. She, however, was focused on her social status all the time. She came with her dad because she was failing. Dad asked me what we do in the class. I responded. His response was, "So, in other words, you do everything you can to make them fail." Being a young teacher and this being the first real experience with a parent not necessarily on my side, I will admit I was a bit rattled. I was also irritated. Not offended. Irritated. I responded quickly and told him about his daughter's behaviors in class. Once I was done, he looked at his daughter, said "Is that true?" and when she said nothing, he looked at me and said, "OK. Thank you," and left. The ice was officially broken for Mr. Brooks.

My other distinctive memory of conferences in the student center was with a set of parents whose son was sort of a handful. They arrived at the table and the smell of alcohol was strong. I began to do the math. Conferences, I soon realized, would be a learning experience for me.

When our student population grew, we no longer could contain all the departments in the student center, so a couple were moved to the library. The English department was one of them. And the eight-hour day of conferencing came to an end. By then, conferences began at 4 p.m. — after a full day of teaching. They would last four hours, and we'd return the next morning for three more hours with the rest of the day for ourselves. I really never minded conferences because I was a social animal. Yes, they'd be exhausting, especially after teaching all day. It's how it was, though.

Maybe my most memorable conference came when a parent of a senior boy came to my table and sat down. I did not have her son at the time, but I had taught him in ninth grade and had worked with him in theater, and now he was about to graduate. These were our spring conferences. His mother was a nice woman. She merely wanted to ask me a question. "I need you to be honest," she said. Her son had been in a children's theater production of mine. His role was a minor character, but he had fun with it. Her question was, "Will my son ever have a major role or is he the kind who will always be in the chorus and in the background?" Dear Lord. What could I do? I was honest. And I told her he really didn't have the stage presence that would land him a juicy role, but the kid had so much going for him in so many other areas, I was quick to point out she needed to celebrate his talents he possessed and not ones she had hoped for him. She began crying at some point, and I had to find Kleenex quickly. It was a good chat, but man, oh man, I didn't see it coming!

I don't miss the long days and the potential parent who comes a-huntin' for bear, but overall, my memories of conferences are positive. And for that, I'll always be grateful.

The best part of fall conferences was when they were over, we knew MEA wasn't far behind. And so it is. Next weekend. Teachers love it! Kids love it! Parents lo... well, maybe not so much.