Preparing for my kid’s teacher conferences reminded me of my first job interview: I felt completely confident about my abilities until I walked in the door.
The first conference was for our youngest son Luke who’s in Kindergarten this year. I came prepared to list my concerns, such as why didn’t he recognize all his letters or numbers yet? Or why does he still not know any names of his classmates except like two? Or why is he still on the first list of sight words? Is he going to be prepared for First Grade?! And yes, I realize they’ve only been in school for a little over a month. But unlike my older son who tells me every detail of his day, Luke tells me nothing. He can’t tell me who he sat next to on the bus…immediately after he got off the bus.
So I wanted to know everything! How was he adjusting to the class routine, following directions, participating, socializing? Upon walking in, armed and ready with a million questions, his teacher kindly pulled me up a ‘grown-up’ chair and before I could start in on my interrogation, she gave me a huge smile and began telling me how much she loves my son. She loves how kind his heart is, always considerate of everyone’s feelings. She loves how silly he can be. She said “Luke just ‘gets’ me. When no one else gets my jokes, I know Luke will laugh.” She loves how hard he tries and is a great rule follower. He’s stubbornly independent but is learning to ask for help. He literally gets along with everyone, which she said is a dream come true for her. She stops his brother in the halls sometimes and asks if she can take Luke home with her, which my oldest son James thinks is hilarious.
After her gushing review of how great Luke is doing, I felt silly jumping into my questions, but I did anyway. She met each one with sincere assurance that he will be just fine. He’s a young Kindergartner, just turned five in August, and everything will just start clicking for him soon, and not to worry. I left the conference feeling good that he had such a sweet, optimistic teacher, but I also decided that I will spend extra time with him at home going over what he learns in school because I know what’s coming for him in First Grade.
I left the classroom and headed down the hall to the second conference for my older son James, who is in First Grade this year. The list I had prepared for this conference was quite different, as my concerns for James weren’t about academics. James has had a rough time adjusting this year. I knew First Grade would be a lot more work than Kindergarten, but I wasn’t worried because he’s a very smart kid, advanced in all his subjects, and loves learning. But he had been coming home from school very discouraged, complaining how strict his teacher was and how much work there was to do. I would look at the pile of worksheets in his folder and could see why he was overwhelmed. There also hasn’t been any communication from the teacher as to what the kids are learning about, unlike his Kindergarten teacher last year who sent weekly email updates to the parents. So sometimes even I would have trouble deciphering his homework or graded papers because I wasn’t sure what they were testing him on. James would tell me the teacher wanted it very quiet in the classroom, and if he was talking to a friend he would get ‘in trouble’. I hadn’t personally met with his teacher yet, so I was trying to keep an open mind, but I admit that I already had some issues walking into that conference.
I was offered a tiny chair to sit in, which I thought was a funny contrast to the previous conference. His teacher started off by asking me how I thought James was doing so far. So I guess she wasn’t going to butter me up like the Kindergarten teacher had. I decided to just jump right in to my list of concerns, determined to keep an open mind. She took each of my concerns seriously. I learned that some of James’ issues come from him being a perfectionist, which I understand. She assured me that he never got in trouble for talking, but she has a lot of rambunctious boys in her class and has to run a tight ship to keep it under control, which I also understand. She encouraged me to tell James he can talk to her anytime about his concerns and that I was welcome to email her any time. Though I didn’t get the same warm fuzzy feelings from this teacher as I did from Luke’s, I felt confident that I made my case for James and hopefully some changes will come of it. I also left knowing that I need to make more of an effort to communicate about questions or concerns since she isn’t going to communicate as much with us parents.
I learned a lot from the conferences this year. I learned that each teacher is different and it’s my job as the parent to learn their style. I learned that it’s also my job to be my kids’ advocate, to make sure their needs are being met and their concerns are being heard. I also learned that it makes you feel very insecure to sit in a tiny chair. Next time, I’ll ask for a ‘grown-up’ chair.
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Mandy Watts is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Crownsville with her husband, Justin, who runs their family business, and their two sons, 5-year-old James and 3-year-old Luke.