This post was written by Emma Margraf, a foster parent and advocate.
I am a foster parent to a teenage girl who goes to public school. I’ve had her for two years, and in the time I’ve had her I have attended what feels like approximately 9 million parent teacher conferences, school meetings, back to school nights, etc. I have the access code for the online system where you can see what classes your kid has been late to and what assignments they’ve missed. I supervise homework time and answer the questions I can and challenge her with extra books and encourage her to ask for extra credit, extra help, and extra time.
The other day I read something by Kelly Munn, LEV’s State Field Director, that really struck home with me–in a post she wrote called the Blame Game. Why, in the education world, is everyone having a monologue with themselves? I, like Kelly, am that parent in the video satirizing parent teacher conferences. I give. That’s totally me. I’m sure a number of teachers dread my presence and hate my emails. That reaction – the one where you go on a tirade of all of the reasons why your child can’t do this, is a human response the veritable brick wall you run into when you go into a school and say: this isn’t working. A partnership is possible.
Now here’s where I am tempted to say something completely silly, like some of my best friends are teachers. They are. I believe they deserve higher pay, smaller class sizes, and extra breaks. My step-father is a college professor, my mother is a retired elementary school teacher, and for years I kept in touch with my high school English teacher who, when she discovered I’d already read Macbeth several times gave me leave from class and assigned me Julius Ceasar and Romeo and Juliet, without any intervention from my parents. Mrs. Barnett taught me to write. Her method is the one I’m still using in this article, except I buried my thesis at the end of the second paragraph.
I’m often told that teachers have 140 students, and that if they allowed for the concerns of every student they’d never get anywhere. And yet: concessions are made all of the time. Kids leave class for sports events and get make up time, kids leave sex ed because their parents have moral quandaries, kids do alternative biology assignments because their family doesn’t agree that evolution was how we ended up here. How is that different than when I ask for my child to be let out of a unit on mental health issues because of her background? How is that different than when I ask teachers to let her do extra credit to make up for an area where she’s deficient as a result of previous negligence? These are just two of my current concerns, on which I am in the middle of my 5,000th email. Partnerships are possible.
In the comments to Kelly’s post, there were some great responses, and one of them asked why we can’t get syllabi at the beginning of the year. That was a great suggestion. If assignments were available ahead of time then we’d know what we were dealing with. Technology has become fairly advanced, why can’t we plug in the assignments ahead of time instead of the missed assignments after the fact?
What if parent teacher conferences were actually student centered? What if they started and ended with the student expressing their concerns about the particular class, and making a suggestion for what they think they can do to improve their work? What if that conversation between my child and my child’s teacher was really only witnessed by me, and driven by my child? I’m not sure about all of you, but in that scenario, if mine felt heard, she’d pay a lot more attention. It wouldn’t have to be a long conference; it’s the quality of the conversation that matters, and if she heard something other than follow the rules or else, she would listen.
I understand the argument about teaching children to survive in a big world. However, if something isn’t working it isn’t working, and my kid needs to see that there are solutions to problems that seem insurmountable, because there always, always are. Conversations have been a prized tool for answering the profound questions of the world for thousands of years. Let’s have a conversation to see if we can figure this one out.