Monday, November 2, 2009

Parent Teacher Conferences

Last Wednesday were parent/teacher conferences. I was able to sit in on about 10 before having to leave for class at UWB. (The day started at noon so that teachers could stay late to meet with parents in the evening.) These conferences went very differently than what I have experienced at SGS with learning team meetings (our equivalent of the parent/teacher conference).

First off, students were not usually present. Aside from that obvious fact, the tone and focus of the conferences were different as well. At SGS, the parents, while they are appreciative and postive, can be very challenging of both the teacher and the student. They are concerned with how the curriculum is taught, the level of difficulty, and the amount of homework. They also challenge their daughters to do better (whether that means being more organized, not procrastinating, putting in more effort, asking questions, or better prioritizing what they put their effort into.) At Chief Sealth I saw a lot of smiling and nodding on the parents' part. They didn't have too many questions for the teacher (at least few that probed into how the classroom was run/how curriculum was designed and why). The information exchanged was very grade focused (as opposed to skill focused). And my CT didn't have very specific information on how students could improve, other than to come in after school for help and especially before tests to do some practice problems. In the case where a student was getting a high grade, often very little other information was exchanged. Parents were happy to hear their kid was getting a high grade and moved on to the next teacher.

Imaging how I would run a parent teacher conference and what information I would prepare to share, here are the ideas I have. I would probably have the students do a self evaluation in class before the conferences (even if the student's parent(s)/guardian(s) aren't coming in). I would focus the evaluation on the skills learned thus far and I might ask students to show some evidence. (Although, I'm noticing that metacognitive reasoning just isn't that high among the student body in general. I'm not sure how to fit that in with all the other skills that are mandated.) I would also ask the students to come up with a plan for how they could improve. Thus, I would have more specific information to share other than just grades. Plus it would incorporate the student's persepective as well.

On a side note...I don't want to get into a whole debate about privatization of schools, but I can see how the private market for schools requires teachers (at least in my experience) to become better teachers. Parents pay a lot of money and expect a high quality product. In the first several years of teaching, I was always nervous about parent/teacher conferences, specifically because I was afraid of being called out for something I wasn't doing well. After 8 years of teaching, I now feel like I can handle just about any parent question. Everything I do, I do for a reason, and I can often cite research to back up my choices (though knowing what I know about education research, there's probably evidence to the contrary as well). I don't think I do everything perfectly, but I am confident that I deliver a good product and know that I work hard and am always striving to do better. To some extent, I do think that I am where I am now because of parent pressure to make private schools better. One way that SGS responds to that pressure is to develop their teachers, and I have benefitted from that. I'm not sure that public schools feel the same kind of market forces, and I witness a lot of mediocre teaching here.

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