Friday, November 8, 2013

Parent-Teacher Conferences

I spent the morning observing Mrs. Reilly in her natural environment.  I saw a geometry class and two physics classes.  It was a wonderful experience and VERY different from the school where I teach.  It was a shock, in between classes, to NOT see students riding on each others backs, screaming down the hallway.  Also, the fact that there was light and air in the hallway was a welcome change.


In addition, I found it very interesting to watch someone teach classes that I teach.  I think that in the past, I would have spent much of my time thinking either "that's cool!" or "I could do that better."

This time, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I interact with my students and the types of questioning that I utilize.  After each class, we talked about the various students and their needs in terms of content and attention.  We discussed ways to modify the presentation for future classes.  We talked, generally, the way that colleagues who care about improving their craft are supposed to talk about an observation.

She looks awesome and I look like an escaped mental patient!

Then I went back to my school for conferences!

The style of conference adopted by my school is one that I deeply love.  Instead of having parents wander the building looking for teachers, all of the 7th grade parents convene in one room while the 8th grade parents meet in another.  They sit at a group a desks at put their child's name on a card.  The teachers then sit down with the parents all together and discuss the progress of the child in all of their classes.

The process builds incredible communication, allows teachers to know what the others are saying to the parents and creates an air of community for the teachers as a whole.

In my previous years, I spent much of the conference time saying things like "He doesn't bring his materials to class" "she doesn't complete her assignments" and "he comes in, refuses to do any work and puts his head down."

While true, all of these conveyed the same message: This is why it's not my fault that your kid is failing.

This year, the conferences were VERY different.  I spent much of the time laughing and joking with the parents, trying to develop creative solutions to get the kids back on track to success and generally having a good time.

Several parents told me that their kid loves my class and can't stop talking about all of the things that we do and talk about.  One set who brought their daughter with them, told me that I had changed her life.  She used to spend hours crying about doing her math homework and now she LOOKS FORWARD TO IT!  They thanked me for feeding her on days when they couldn't and for making my room a place where she felt safe.

Another set expressed their concern that their son was full of amazing ideas but had trouble getting them out.  His spelling is awful, but his minds works on a level that I find astonishing.  I suggested that they have him start a blog.  Getting his ideas down, even just a few minutes each day could help to clear his mind and direct his thinking.  I told them that I started the practice as well and how it has helped me tremendously to keep my thoughts organized.  I also told them that I would be extremely interested to read his blog if he and they choose to make it public.

I expressed my concern to another parent that his daughter might be starting down the path to being a "mean girl" and how desperately I didn't want that to happen.  She's so kind and sweet and I love her to pieces, but I see undercurrents of bossiness that, if directed properly, could make her an amazing leader.

At several points, I introduced myself and received the response "Oh! So YOU'RE the one!"  One parents said "the infamous Mr. Aion."

It was wonderful to be able to tell parents about the growth I have seen in their children and how proud they should be.

I'm really not comfortable tooting my own horn.  I'm trying to make math class interesting for the students and for me and the results seem to be pretty positive.  I am starting to think that I may actually be doing something right this year.  I will only take partial credit for it.  The rest goes entirely to the wonderfully creative and encouraging teachers that I have met through Twitter and #MTBoS.

With that said, 95% of the conferences I attended were for my geometry students, who are highly self-motivated and often strive to please their teachers.  Many of the parents that I truly NEEDED to see were unable to attend.

The very last parent that I met with asked for me by name.  The interaction when as follows:

Me: "Hello. I'm Mr. Aion. Can I help you?"
P: "I understand you hollered at my daughter."
M: "I'm sorry. Who is your daughter?"
P: **tells name**
M: "...I don't know who that is."
P: **describes her**
M: "Oh yes. Well, I did have an interaction with her last week where she felt it was acceptable to talk to teachers as though they were her friends.  I expressed to her at that point that it was inappropriate to do so.  My job in the morning is keep students moving towards homeroom and she was loitering outside of my room.  I asked her to move along and her reply was not appropriate.  So I reiterated my point in a more authoritative fashion."
P: "She says you hollered at her."
M: "I don't holler at anyone.  But I'm sorry if that was how it was perceived. I will apologize to her on Monday for the way I came off."

I think a year ago, that would have ended MUCH more unpleasantly.

I suppose I may be learning from my mistakes!


  1. By nature, I'm a very laid back, calm person. When I first started teaching, I felt that other teachers had the answer for me and that was to teach with the iron fist, and if the students didn't like it, tough. But my first few years were difficult, because it was so unnatural for me to act this way. Then I tried something new: treating students like human beings, and they responded to this.

    I've read you blog title and noticed when you started blogging, and I love the changes that you are making. It seems as though you have found your teacher self. Well done!

    1. Thank you so much for your comments. What I find interesting is that I am "iron fist" by nature. The strictness and regimented approach has been what I've been using because it comes naturally to me. This year, I've given up some of that control and the results have been interesting.

      I attribute this less to my letting go and relaxing and more to my asking myself "Why do I do this?" When I can't come up with a good answer, I've tried to change it. Maybe I was moving more towards who I am supposed to be as a teacher and just didn't realize it.

      My colleagues have stated MANY times this year that I am a completely different person than last year. When I commented on that to parents last night, there was always another teacher there to nod their head vigorously.

      I think it's tough for teachers, especially new teachers, to be able to draw that line between treating the students like people and treating them like friends.

      Teacher education programs should teach more civility.

  2. These rules apply to teacher/student interactions too!

    “Treat others as you would yourself be treated.” — Hinduism
    “What you yourself hate do to no man.” — Judaism
    “Hurt not others with that which pains you.” — Buddhism
    “Do unto all men as you would wish to have done.” — Islam
    “Live in harmony, for we are all related.” — Native American
    “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” — Christianity

    (Ref: “World Peace Village” created by Sr. Josetta Walsh)

    Nice post. Good job, my friend.

    1. Thank you! I need to put those on posters all around my room. For the kids, but also for me...

    2. I know, right? How often do we as teachers casually throw out a comment that may be intended as instructive, but is actually hurtful. Would we say that in the same way to a peer? Food for thought...

    3. Interestingly, I'm MORE likely to be abrasive with my colleagues because they are adults and should know better.

      I'm really the worst...

  3. I love reading these reflections. Your school's conference system sounds wonderful. I so admire how you've poured yourself into the challenge of taking your teaching craft to the next level. It's very inspiring!

    - Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

    1. I am fully convinced that EVERY district, every school has something that they do better than others. It may be hard to find, but it's there.

      One of the things that I think our school does better than anywhere else is our system for parent-teacher conferences. It allows the teachers to spend time together and solidify the sense of community when not meeting with parents, and allows them to work together, supporting each other when they do.

      It's much easier to have a conference when you hear that other teachers are not only having the same issues, but expressed those to the parents.

      It's easier for the parents as well since they come to one room to meet with all of the teachers and usually don't have to wait more than 5 minutes to see someone.

  4. Justin - Amazing. Am I allowed to be proud of you? If so, I am! Your students are lucky to have you (and vice versa). Keep up the great work.


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