I’m never sure what to expect when I walk into parent/teacher conferences.
I know what I hope for, and I’m quite sure that we parents all want to hear the same thing: your child is wonderfully compassionate to fellow students. A hard worker. Fun to be around. A joy to have in class. Highly intelligent. A self-starter. Doing his best work possible. Clearly understanding concepts. Showing great organizational skills. Obviously well liked and yet able to focus in class without being socially distracted. Oh, yes, I will happily admit to anyone that I love to hear those things about my three "perfect" children!
But yet, at some level, I am always a bit hesitant when I go into the parent/teacher conferences every early November.
Maybe it goes back to one of our kids’ 2- or 3-year old "well child visit." The doctor had an extensive list in front of her, filled with questions to ask and check off. It was going along quite well. Yes, we had child proofed the outlets. (I felt relieved that I had remembered this basic necessity ... but was not about to bring up that the two brothers had also taken a scissors to a lamp cord-and came dangerously close to sawing through to them while I worked in the next room, happy for the quiet moments to concentrate.) Yes, he was eating a good variety of foods, including many vegetables of many different colors. (We used to have great luck with encouraging them to eat "green things." Used to. Past tense.) Yes, we had enrolled him in swimming classes. (That category meant gold stars for this mother, a certified non-swimmer.)
Then she asked if he knew how to cut things out with scissors, on paper. I, ever-so-confidently, responded, "Of course, not. We never let him play with scissors!" Turns out that, by this magical age, scissors had come off the "scary, dangerous, must-be-child-proofed-list and never-to-be-touched"... and had fallen square on the "must-be-taught-how-to-use" list. I, completely unbeknownst to me, had failed him.
Perhaps it is this conversation that always lurks in the back of my mind when we go to sit in the little chairs-that are happily getting larger with each passing year-to hear what their teachers have to say. I am always ever-mindful that these educators are highly trained professionals who quite literally see our children more waking hours per day than we do for most of the year. Will they see something in one of our wonderful little people that we have not? Is there something that we have forgotten to do, some fundamental skill that we have overlooked and should have been watching for?
At the same time, I know that my children are not 100 percent perfect. (They are close, of course -- just as all the other children here in Brattleboro surely are, too. Lake Woebegone, "where all the children are above average," does not only exist in Minnesota.)
While I will happily sing the praises of our elementary conference this year -- great statistics and information shared by a full group of teachers that sees our daughter -- I shall leave that for perhaps another column.
The conference I want to tell you about right now was with our new middle schooler. BAMS only gets students for two years (many less than our elementary system, which has them for seven). Combine the short time span with this age group’s remarkably change-prone bodies/personalities/voices/skills, and I definitely would forgive the seventh- and eighth-grade teaching staff for not knowing their pupils all that well.
The core teachers (social science, physical science, math and English) met with parents for about 20 minutes. The exploratory teachers were also available, and clearly all work together as a team. Watching them interact, it’s obvious that they have compared notes on their team’s students. They knew the strengths of our son. They knew how to play up to those areas, to push him harder when he needs it. They knew what he is working on -- and they were planning together how to support him and challenge him more in each other’s classes. They were supportive, and yet demanding, of him.
Even more happily, they have already clearly gotten to know him as an unique individual who is more than just a mind ready to be stretched and filled. They are familiar with the social opportunities-and downright fun -- of moving from elementary to middle school. They expect certain behaviors from all of their incoming classes. They were very attuned to the world of friends that seems to be monumentally important at this age. They have systems and plans laid out to address whatever might come up, from tying someone’s shoes to their desk to figuring out how to use the "HAB" (homework assignment book).
At the end of our brief conference time together, we parents both commented that the BAMS staff really knew our child very well already. They’ve only been in school for just over 10 weeks. They said that they are "really enjoying getting to know him," and it seemed true that they were truly doing that. From our side, we, too, have been hearing positive things from our son about all his BAMS experiences.
There were no real surprises in our conferences. I want to think that even if we parents have less waking hours with our offspring than those we hire to educate them, we still know our children on a deep, fundamental level. At the same time, I want those same educators to take the time to observe and learn about and of our children, so that they know how to best encourage them.
Our parent-teacher conference confirmed just that.
We left the middle school feeling that our son was in good hands.
And really, what more can any of us want?
Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools-now at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment, the Brattleboro Town School Board and the Early Education Services policy council.