From what I recall of the dissertation I mentioned last week about parent-teacher conferences, and from comments on last week’s post, and from discussions with several people since then, I’ve learned that some of the stress associated with parent-teacher conferences originates for parents from:
1) A lack of privacy; for example when parents meet their child’s teacher in a gym where several other teachers are also set up to confer with parents.
2) A lack of any parent-teacher communication prior to the p-t conference.
3) A sense of embarrassment that their child isn’t living up to expectations.
4) A feeling that they’re not being heard, that nobody at the school really cares about their child.
5) A child who is not able to keep up is just one more thing on the plate of overworked parents – one parent mentioned “single parents especially.”
For the teacher stress comes when:
1) They have previous experience with hostile or demanding parents.
2) They are not sure what to expect from parents – truer of newer teachers.
3) They haven’t had prior communication with parents to let them know how the student is progressing.
4) They don’t realize how much support they have from their principal or colleagues. (As far as I can tell, this is rare)
5) One teacher commented that it is a "lot of people processing in a few days." A more introverted teacher may worry about what parents are expecting and about having to be "on stage." That can be energy depleting, the teacher mentioned, while for a more extroverted teacher it could be energy giving, "but either way, a source of stress."
Many of these issues can be easily addressed. Prior communication, for example, doesn’t have to be face-to-face, but can be telephone contact or just a quick email. In states where farm homes or ranches are far from the school, communication and even the conference can occur over Skype. Since communication is a two-way street both partners can let the other know that contact is always welcome.
I heard one story this week that seems to me to answer several of these concerns. A friend of mine has a son in the ninth grade—his first year in high school. As any parent, my friend was concerned with how her son might be handling the transition to the new setting, a new set of friends, new classes, etc. When she arrived at the classroom for her first high school parent-teacher conference, the teacher didn’t bring out the homework, the corrected papers or her grade book. The first thing she asked was, “How do you think Joey is handling the transition to high school?” My friend answered that she hoped he was doing well in that area, but was looking to the teacher from some guidance about that as well. The teacher reassured her by pointing to specific instances of his good social interactions and mentioned that the boy had made a new friend, also a bright ninth grader. She said that the two of them often finished their work early and were allowed to visit quietly at their table. “I like to hang around them,” the teacher commented, “because their conversations are exciting and enriching for both of them.”
Wow, what a way to begin a parent-teacher conference. What have your experiences been like?