Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The lazy person's guide to parent-teacher conferences

At least once a year, we parents are summoned to our child's school to participate in the ritual known as parent-teacher conferences. Ostensibly, the idea here is to find out what your child is learning, how well they're learning it, how they're behaving, and how mom and dad can help the educational process along.

I have no time for any of that. Seriously, I know it's terrible and that I should be deeply engaged in my child's school experience, but I'm really only concerned with three things when I attend a parent-teacher conference:

(1) Is my kid getting an "A" in your class?

(2) If not, in what specific area is the little ingrate falling behind so I can use that as leverage the next time he/she wants something?

(3) Are you inclined to tell me how awesome my son/daughter is? If so, I will give you one minute to expound on this thesis, after which I will likely get bored.

Again, I know I'm not modeling the best parenting behavior here, but I am being realistic. My life is busy. So is yours. I'm just looking for bottom-line information.

If there's anything in which I take pride, it's item #2 above. Well, not the part in which I blackmail my children based on their school performance, but rather the first part about how I automatically assume it's my kid's fault (and not the teacher's) if they're not getting an "A" in a given class. I would love to say that my little angels can do no wrong, but the reality is that most of the time when their grades slip, it's their own fault. And generally the reason is that they were too lazy to complete a certain assignment or to come in early to get help from the teacher.

And while we're on the subject, God bless teachers. I know the majority of you teachers love what you do, and as a consequence I love you for it. I'm not sure I could deal with whiny, misbehaving children all day AND have to listen to parents complain that I'm the reason their little darling is getting a "D" in my class. So kudos to all of you.

My favorite approach to parent-teacher conferences is the one they use at our local middle and high schools. You walk into the cafeteria and the teachers are seated at different tables around the room. It's like a teacher buffet, and you can pick and choose the ones you want to talk to, and in what order. Whoever came up with this idea is a genius.

We have five kids attending the school system from which my wife and I both graduated, so to say we're familiar with the people and personalities involved is risking gross understatement. We spend a good chunk of our conference time just chatting with the teachers about everything EXCEPT our children.

But when we do get around to discussing the topic at hand, it doesn't take that long. Because like I said, I'm just looking for cause, effect and outcome. Give me the grade. If it's an "A," there's not much more we need to talk about. If it's not, you tell me why and I'll take it from here. Case closed, we can all go home.

Sometimes, though, you'll come across the sort of teacher I call the Curriculum Whisperer. This is the person who wants to tell you every detail about what your child is learning in their class. And while this can actually be interesting at times, I keep glancing at my watch and thinking that if the explanation of how one goes about teaching fifth-graders basic economics is this boring, imagine how the actual class must be.

I also enjoy the Teacher Who Isn't 100% Sure Who Your Kid Is. This doesn't happen too often to us, given that we know so many of the teachers and have lived in this school district forever, but it's a lot of fun when it does. We'll approach a teacher and sit down at their table, and the teacher will give us a blank look and say, "Hiiiiiiii, uhhhhh...." And then there will be this awkward silence during which they're hoping we'll either identify ourselves or that the name of our child will suddenly pop into their head. I usually make them sweat it out for a few seconds before I finally relent and say, "Hi, we're Scott and Terry. We're Jared's parents." It's cruel, I know, but I'm trying to squeeze whatever entertainment out of this activity that I can.

Once we get home, we'll give a debriefing to the child or children we just spent an hour discussing. Generally speaking, the news will largely be positive and we all move on. But when there's an issue to be addressed or a particular grade to be bolstered, you can be sure that somebody is going to be doing extra chores for me to make up for it. That is, of course, if they ever want Daddy to open his wallet again when they're looking to go to the movies with their friends.

Being a parent is sometimes the funnest job ever...


  1. Loved this!!! You guys are a better parents than I. I did not attend parent/teacher conferences this year. Back when I was in school parents stopped attending these 'events' after elementary school. With my kids in 8th & 11th, I know the school, teachers and the system--somebody will hunt me down if the kids are causing trouble...And by the way, I am a big fan of your writing style. You are always good for a laugh.

  2. Thanks so much, Amy! And honestly, now that I think about it, I'm with you: The middle and high school conferences are more opportunities for us to socialize than anything else. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  3. I praise you for still attending your children's conferences. As a preschool teacher I unfortunately find myself falling into the deer in a headlights look with some kid's parents, but that's only because they don't attend any of the school functions. And when the kids ride the bus to and from school I have never laid eyes on them!! It never fails, the parents who come to conferences are those parents that I'm in regular contact with about their child's progress or lack there of. The ones that I wish would come are those parents who I REALLY need to talk to!!