This article was written by a guest blogger, teacher, wife, and mom of one, who is going into her 11th year teaching 4th grade. Her belief is that successful teaching is based solely on building relationships with her students.... but also Sonic drinks and a sense of humor.
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We've all been there. We've all experienced parent-teacher conference night. It's like speed dating, except so much worse.
In districts like mine, we teach half a day, the kids get out early, and we spend the rest of the day army crawling towards the 8:00 PM final conference time, meeting with as many parents as humanly possible.
This day is brutal. Especially when it happens to fall during Red Ribbon Week. Throw in a field trip, a full moon, and Halloween and you've got yourself a party.
Some teachers call in sick the next day, but those of us seasoned in the ways of the parent teacher conference dance, know there are tricks to surviving this, one of the most dreaded nights of a teacher's year.
Here, in no particular order, are some tips to help you maintain your sanity:
Make wagers with your teaching partners and other coworkers. My partners and I bet on how many parents will be no-shows and how many will come through. Loser buys the others breakfast the next day. (Spoiler alert: I lost this year.) The possibilities are endless on the things you could bet on for this night, but smart money is on no shows.
2. Play a drinking game (imaginary, of course).
Here's how it works. Pick a phrase that you or your teaching partners use frequently in conferences. For me, it's the word "malicious," as in "Your child is never malicious in any way. He/she just has some impulse control issues." For my teaching partner, it's "multiplication facts," as in there has never been a conference where she hasn't said, "Really, everything we do from here on out builds on those multiplication facts, so any extra practice on those will be beneficial." Any time any of us say our phrases, the other teachers in the meeting make a subtle motion with our fingertips on the table. If we were really drinking, we would all be passed out in a classroom still today.
3. Write the funny stuff down.
Nobody outside of a teaching community would believe what is said behind a closed classroom door. It is funny to look back on the crazy things parents say (and teachers too!) on this night of a million meetings. I'm not talking about writing down identifying student information or issues children have. That isn't funny. What's funny is when you mention a concern about an upper elementary child's motor skills and not being able to alternate steps on stairs and the parent's response is simply, "Well, everyone hates climbing." In a few years I might not remember exactly why I wrote down and circled "Everyone hates climbing," but there it will be when I open my trusty conference folder. I'll spend a few minutes trying to remember what kid I could've possibly been meeting about at that time, and then I'll remember the crazy parent who possibly (definitely) was on drugs during the meeting.
4. Eat all the chocolate. Drink all the sodas.
Calories don't count on parent teacher conference night. Fact.
5. Tried and true: lean on the positives.
These parents that are being called in for meetings know the routine as well as you do. They know their kids' strengths and weaknesses, and if they bother to show up to your scheduled meeting, their kid is already winning. Express your concerns, but verify for them that their kid is valuable and loved. Let them know that they as parents are doing a good job. And always throw your own kid under the bus. If I'm meeting with a parent of a child with social anxiety, I'm definitely sharing with them that my child too struggles in that department. Sometimes you might have to blur the facts a little because of course your kid won't have the exact same issues as every kid you meet about, but giving your own child a plethora of struggles makes parents feel more comfortable who are working hard at helping their own kid.
6. At closing time (for me - 8:00) RUN.
Run down the hall as quickly as possible towards your car, don't stop to talk to anyone, do not pass go, just GO and don't look back. Until tomorrow.