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If I had a nickel…

Lucy Van PeltWe all have opinions about what is discussed in the teachers’ lounge. Is it reflective consideration, mild chit-chat or disruptive gossip? I enjoy the other colleagues I dine with on occasion; they are professional and fun. I don’t eat there everyday, some days I need to be in my room to let students in/out. This is perhaps, unnecessary background to this next comment: another teacher joined us one day after conferences, surprised by how much personal information is so flagrantly shared by parents. Shocked by the fact that she now knows “TMI” (too much information) and that grades, academics, etc. were not at the forefront of parents’ minds, but their children’s heart and souls were. Her shock and awe just interrupted lunch, and gave me food for thought.

Conference days are long days anyway, and I’m not really sure what gets accomplished. The only way to really know a student and help them get where they need to go is through personal conversation, and the same with their parents. By the time a child reaches middle school, conferences are not the same as elementary, with its structured scheduling and file folders of student work, bursting at the seams by now.

What suprises many teachers is how much pure couseling/therapeutic work we encounter at conferences. We are not clergy or psychiatrists. We are not professionally trained to handle the weight of emotions that come with conferences. Parents who are worried about their child’s drug use, or lack of motivation, or that they’re not being challenged enough. As my teammate said, these parents are mourning their lost darling child. This age group is a thick, gooey, transitional time from childhood to young adulthood, and boy do those waters get goopy. Parents are facing their own aging process, too — they are not the young adult they once were, and are coming to terms with their own changes. Can you say “poison apple, dearie?” The archetypes abound!

And, if you work at a school with a variety of spoken languages such as I do, and wouldn’t change for the world, there is a translation issue. It’s hard to reassure a parent who speaks Swahili or Arabic that their child is having a hard time writing about anything else but their experiences in secular school or finding out where to upload an assignment. Even if English is their first language, a few students have never encountered a keyboard before, and feel lost and technophobic. At conferences, a parade of first wives and divorces and stepchildren and grandmas and adoptions and loss comes running across a clipboard and pen set. I just want to hug them all, and tell them it’s going to be okay, but I don’t always know that. I’m honest about their children, what I see, and let them know how much I respect their child, which I do. But while driving home, I hear about tax breaks for the wealthy, adults behaving like brats, and bad people doing bad things, and I just want to scream. Sometimes I do.

We all need that support, just someone to listen to us while we share our story. I wonder who’s going to listen to me when I am spun out? It really doesn’t matter. I hope I provided reassurance when needed, guidance when asked, and hope where there was little. You want to know their grades, too? Got that, too.

3 Comments »

  1. I’m wondering of the colleague that complained about “TMI” has the additional role of parent. I must confess that I was probably much like that colleague until I had children of my own. Having children causes as seismic shift in what one deems important. Maybe we go soft. Maybe we can no longer see through the fog. Or maybe we just stop seeing with only our eyes. All I know is that becoming a parent has made me a better teacher, and hopefully, it’s helped me stop listening with only my ears.

  2. Great post! I’ve always been happy to let parents share as it gives me further insight to where their children are. It is also quite a compliment I think that they respect & trust you.

  3. Thank you both for these insightful comments. Phil, I think the emotional information just caught her by surprise. And yes, I agree- if it weren’t for the fact that I am also a parent of children who are around the age group I teach, I wouldn’t be nearly as capable of a listener and supporter. One thing that helps is when I let parents know how much their child loves them–and a lot of positive anecdotal insights.

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