Tonight we are having parent-teacher conferences from 3 PM to 7 PM. I cannot begin to tell you what an inefficient use of our time they are. I can count on one hand the number of useful conferences I've been involved with in the past ten years .
The first problem is that 90% of the parents who come in are generally concerned about their children and are attentive to their needs. Those parents are not the ones I need to see! I should just make a recording for them saying, "I wish I had 100 more just like him/her."
The second problem is that sometimes when parents come in, they exhibit bad behaviors that their children emulate. This sometimes includes saying, "Well, I was never any good at math, so it's okay that my son/daughter isn't either." Well, guess what? My dad was never any good at math either, and I have a degree in the subject. Sometimes they come in drunk or altered in some way. I haven't had many of those, but I sure do remember the ones I did have. I will occasionally hear everything I want to hear from a parent about how they have a behavior contract set up, and then I never hear about it again. Sometimes I get parents who are at the end of their rope and simply don't know what they can do; their child actually runs the house because they don't know how to discipline him or her.
The saddest conference I ever had was a few years ago when my student's grandmother came in and said to me, "She ain't never going to need to know this to work in the trailer factory." I was absolutely amazed. This woman had already condemned her 14-year old granddaughter to working in the same job she had. Before this girl had the opportunity to explore different careers she might like, she was told by the person raising her that she had no other future. When the girl's mother tried to intervene, the grandmother shot her a look and told her, "She's going to be just like you and have a kid before she's 16." Wow.
For the most part, conferences are about four hours of sheer boredom. I get a little grading done, socialize a bit with my fellow teachers, who are also generally not seeing the people they need to, either. If conferences could be done well, we would arrange conferences with the parents of those students who are behind in their work or who never even try to get help. I wonder if there are parents out there who would appreciate knowing that their kids can call me at home to get help on homework. We would see those parents of kids who bring laser pointers to school and wear Al Pacino as Scarface on their pajama pants, and then we could ask them if that's really the image they want their child to project to represent their family.
One thing I do take from conferences is negative examples to shy away from when it comes to raising Sera. I have seen the results of missteps that parents make. If I can't avoid them all, at least I can avoid those.