Happy PTC season! My district held parent-teacher conferences last week.
Most teachers in my high school meet with parents in ten minute increments. I do conferences a little differently. I have a small caseload and a self-contained classroom. Parents have the right to sign up for 10 minutes for each class their student is enrolled in with me—50 minutes per student.
This extra time gives our conferences a little extra time to **ahem** develop character. The ‘character’ of the conference can be classified in one of 4 different categories.
The But He’s Perfect at Home!!! Parents
These are the parents who immediately become defensive when you attempt an honest conversation of areas to improve. You may hear things like, “He never gets like that at home” or “He was probably just going for a high-five!” Your description of his behavior under stress is met with disbelieving expressions, although their description of his home life indicates that the most stressful thing that happens is that he has to watch his favorite DVD down in the basement instead of the big screen. Descriptions of how well he is doing in other areas are met with similar expression of disbelief. They apparently present a strategy of parenting that simultaneously provides no room for stress and no room for growth in the home.
The But He’s Terrible at Home!!! Parents
These parents come in with horror stories of their student’s behavior at home. From bathroom ‘finger painting’ to breaking the window in their car, it seems that their child’s behavior at home is out of control. You may hear things like, “How many people does it usually take to get him out of the pool?” or “Can I hire you for respite outside of school hours?” When you describe the progress that their child has made in school, these parents frenziedly seek out the strategies and take notes. After they take note of the various strategies, these parents often stay for as long as possible in order to hear more and more stories of their child’s success from someone who genuinely enjoys being around them.
The Therapy Session
These parents come in, listen to your spiel on their student’s progress, and then use any excuse to veer from the topic at hand. It isn’t that they don’t care about their child’s progress—they are just more excited to be having a real conversation with a real adult. You may hear things like, “What is your typical workout regimen?” or “What was your favorite season of Breaking Bad?” These parents can be fun to talk to, but generally don’t leave unless you ask them. It is best to arrange a colleague to pull you out of the conference after about an hour, or you may be chatting all night!
The Relieved Professional Parents
These parents have accepted that their child has a significant disability, but haven’t grown accustomed to some of the discomfort or embarrassment that can go hand-in-hand with it. They insist on using only the most sterile, rigid medicinal terms to describe their son’s ‘issues.’ You may hear “I believe the functional behavioral assessment indicated that the function of his behavior is attention” or “I just spoke with the doctor about lowering the Depakote and increasing the Lexapro to manage that.” They cringe when I mention their son’s effective, albeit odd, strategies in the community and turn bright red when I suggest he wear jeans instead of athletic shorts due to his newfound interest in girls. After the conference, you can feel the relief as they slink from the room.
As a teacher, it is interesting to observe parents both with their children and in the classroom in a PTC setting. It can often reveal a lot about student behavior or misbehavior. It is also nice to get to know the parents and lend them an ear from someone who also genuinely cares for and enjoys their child.
These descriptions are caricatures, and are not meant to insult or criticize any parents. I work with students with disabilities for my career, but I cannot imagine how life would be different if I came home to a child with a disability. Parents have my utmost respect!
Good luck to all with your own conferences!