I just got back from my first parent-teacher conference. I’ve been a teacher for 8 years now, and while I have hosted plenty of conferences, this was the first time I sat on the other side of the table.
Was this a conference for my 3-year-old? Yes.
Will the comments or insights provided by his teachers define the rest of his life? No.
Did I go in there a little cocky, thinking that I know how these work and nothing the teachers say can faze me? Admittedly, yes.
Was it still a lot more emotional of an experience than I expected? Definitely.
And so, here is a letter to all of the parents I have held conferences with in the past.
Today I was told that my 3-year-old is “progressing” in his self-help skills. I calmly nodded as the teacher told me that he needed to work on putting on his own shoes. After all, I agreed with her. And yet inside my head, my thoughts were quickly spiraling through mom-guilt and worst-case scenarios: “I should be focusing on this more at home. Should I make a sticker chart? But then what if they don’t use stickers at school? I just need to completely stop putting on his shoes for him. What if we’re in a rush and he needs shoes? Do I rush him too much? He is going to be set back so far behind his peers. Oh my gosh, he will be THAT kid in college wearing velcro! Maybe velcro will be trendy by then?”
When the conference ended, I smiled. I thanked the teachers for all they do. I promised them that we would work on the skills they mentioned. And I finally realized just how surreal it is to have a teacher tell you things about your own child.
Parents, I understand how much importance you place on all of my comments about your child. I finally get it. You know that I spend a whole lot of time with your child. As the teacher, I get to have unique interactions with him that you might never have. I see him do “rock, paper, scissors” with a partner when neither one wants to budge. I watch as he chews his eraser in frustration. I high-five him when he masters a new concept. While something might be a side comment to me, it can be a nugget of insight to you; a tiny glimpse into these 30 or so hours a week of your child’s life that you don’t get to watch.
My son is three. When I think about all of those conferences I have held with parents whose kids are 7 or 9 or 14, I cringe a little because I get it now. If I was already picturing my son as a velcro-wearing college student, what was going through the minds of these parents when I explained that their son wasn’t understanding multiplication or their daughter wasn’t turning in assignments? I never considered how parents might feel when they hear about their child struggling, because as a teacher I see it every day. Every student is working on something – let’s be honest, every PERSON is working on something – and to teachers it is natural to discuss these challenges straight and to the point. However, as a parent now I understand that when you hear that your child is having trouble, it it easy to forget all of that and start blaming yourself.
And so Parents, this is my takeaway. I will always be honest with my students and my parents. I will always tell you what you need to hear. After all, should my son be learning how to put on his shoes? Absolutely. Is it still tough to hear that my child is struggling with something? Without a doubt. But I will make sure to take the time to remind you of what a great job you are doing. Because while growing 25 students is a challenge, raising just one child is a phenomenon. And you’re doing a great job.
A fellow parent (and your child’s teacher)