Parent Teacher Conferences Trick or Treat?

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I have always found humor in the fact that parent teacher conferences typically fall in October, a month prized for its tricks and its treats, because these meetings often provide a good measure of both. Some parents arrive grudgingly, squeeze themselves into tiny chairs and sit across from an organized, smiling teacher whom they’ve been secretly resenting for a month. They come prepared to tell this teacher how she has squelched their child’s enthusiasm for school, only to find out that they’ve been tricked. The teacher admits she has restricted their child’s recess time, asked him to sit in the back of the room to complete work, and has made him redo assignments. However, in the classroom the parents hear the other side of the story; Little Johnny has not been 100% truthful about his assignment quality or turn in track record. After rummaging around Little Johnny’s desk the parents unearth the missing dolphin essay, his spelling packet from last week (the one he swore he never received), six more late assignments, and three kitchen spoons. Sigh. Oh no, I’ve been tricked!

Or the complete opposite happens and parents arrive expecting the worst at these conferences and are given a delightful, yet confusing treat. This was often my experience during the hundreds of parent teacher conferences I held over 20 plus years as a preschool teacher. Two eager, nervous parents would sit across from me completely dumbfounded as I went over their child’s skills assessment profile. I would reassure the parents that YES their child knew how to zip her own coat, put on her own shoes, open her own lunch items and eat in a timely manner, wipe her own bottom, and funny enough, could write her name beautifully without being bribed with candy. (I wonder if parents thought we kept pounds of candy hidden around the building to get the students to complete tasks?) These parents received a double edged trick and a treat. They were delighted to learn their child’s skill level and were always impressed with examples of her independent work, but walked away disillusioned as to why my fellow teachers and I could get a classroom full of four year olds ready to go outside in under five minutes while it took Little Ella an hour to put on her socks this morning. Um…I hate to say it parents but, tricked!

Before heading off to conferences this fall I’d like parents to remember that whether you receive a ‘treat of a report’ from your child’s teacher or walk away feeling distinctly tricked; please do not blame the messenger. The vast majority of teachers (not all, I’ve worked with a few I reported as needing to be fired immediately when asked to peer review them) have the best intentions when it comes to your child’s intellectual and social development. They are genuinely passionate about their calling and take it very seriously. However, they are human too and their color type may not perfectly aligned with yours or your child’s. That is actually a good thing; it’s how we learn and grow as individuals, even Little Johnny and Ella. They will both benefit in the long run from a teacher who holds them accountable and stretches them beyond their comfort zone.

There may be natural communication breakdowns between you and the teacher, the teacher and your child, or between all of you! So, here’s some very general insight into the four first color type teachers. Your child’s Blue teacher will be deeply invested in helping her students learn to advocate for themselves, develop social skills, discuss their dreams, and teaches them to be proud of their accomplishments. She might seem disorganized or flighty and take a bit longer to respond to your emails, however those are all true because she is busy every second helping someone’s child feel confident and loved. Your child’s Gold teacher will do everything in his power to ensure your child is held accountable for their actions, reaches their individual benchmarks, and learns to challenge themselves to go above and beyond their “expected” level. He might seem overly rigid or even insensitive, however this teacher is providing your child a structured and challenging learning environment where they can meet and exceed their goals.

Your child’s Orange teacher will likely be enthusiastic and energetic, open to innovative educational approaches and (in your opinion) be overly optimistic about your child’s ability to adapt. She may appear scatter brained or like she is multitasking too many things at once, however this teacher is showing students to step outside their comfort zone, try new things, and teaching them to remain optimistic and resilient when faced with challenges. Finally, your child’s Green teacher will create hands on experiments for traditional work, he will likely introduce ‘out of the box thinking’ and he will encourage your child to question and research everything. This teacher often provides a variety of options to solve one problem or to complete an assignment which can confuse and stress students and parents. He may demand a high level of independence from his students which can be stressful to children who prefer help and reassurance along the way, however this teacher is preparing your child to be an independant, discerning problem solver in the future.

I hope if you’re called to squeeze yourself into that tiny chair during the next few weeks that you are open to the tricks and treats conferences might have in store for you, and that you can begin to view your child’s teacher as the unique asset they are for helping your child learn new skills for a successful future.

Written by Rebecca Bockart

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