By Mordechai Schmutter
Parent—teacher conferences are coming up, or else they happened already. You should really be on the ball about these things. Especially if you’re the teacher. It sends a bad message when a parent doesn’t show up to conferences, but it sends an even worse message if the teacher doesn’t show up.
“What?! I get seven vacation days!”
Conferences are a rare opportunity to talk to your child’s teacher one on one, unless you bring your spouse. It’s just you, the teacher, your spouse, and the guy who comes in to remind you that your time is almost up.
For teachers, it’s a good time to tell the parents about anything that doesn’t fit into the tiny box on the report card that cannot possibly hold enough words to describe an entire human being.
It’s also a good time for the three or four of you to talk about whatever strategies going forward you can come up with in five minutes flat (with interruptions), which the teacher is going to forget about because he has to see 50 parents in one night. So it’s also good to follow up.
So as someone who’s been a student, a parent, and a high-school teacher, I’ve come up with some tips so that you can make the most of it:
Tips for Teachers:
- Tips for teachers are appreciated. But tips for parents of well-behaved students are also appreciated.
- Figure out what you’re going to say to the good students’ parents. Those parents always show up, because they care about school, which is why their kids are good students. The other parents either don’t care enough to come or they get called in so much that they don’t have to come. (“I was just there this morning!”)
- To start, try to find something positive to say about the kid, even if he’s not great academically. For example, “He always brings good food to class.” “He’s very athletic in class.” “He has a great arm.” Parents are proud of their kids’ strong points. And while you’re talking about this, you can take the time to quickly look up his grade, and also determine genetic traits such as whether the parents are talking while you’re talking, throwing things in the garbage on the other side of the room, asking if they can go to the bathroom for three of the five minutes you’re allotted, or breaking out into song.
- Now is the time to give back any Lego you confiscated.
- Bring concrete example of students’ work to show the parents. Call them “Exhibit A.” I keep meaning to bring those in, but I accidentally give them back two days before conferences when my students want to know why I haven’t returned a single paper in weeks and I’m absentmindedly wondering why I’m carrying around 30 pounds of graded papers. I’d really like, just once, to bring in those papers so I can ask the parents why no one in the last nine years of school caught that their child never learned to put spaces between words.
- If the parents say, “Well, he’s probably bored in class”–the implication being that it’s your fault that he isn’t listening when all you do is constantly try to make the lessons more fun and interesting–say, “So he’s never bored at home? That’s awesome! Give me some tips!” This would also be a good time to silently hand back the Lego.
- I recently read an article that said that sitting on the opposite side of the table from the parents suggests that they’re the students now. So apparently, you’re supposed to–I don’t know–sit on the same side of the table. As both parents. Like you’re at a simcha.
- If you say something less than positive, ask, “Is he like this at home?” (“Yeah, at home he doesn’t hand in worksheets either.”)
- Figure out a good way to ask the parents if they’re the ones doing the homework.
- Don’t ask the parents any questions that might throw all your teaching methods into question, such as “How do you pronounce your son’s name? He won’t tell me.”
- Parents get offended if you don’t recognize them. I have parents sit down across from me all the time and ask how their son is doing, and I have to figure out which one their son is without asking them that straight out. (“How do you pronounce his name again?”) I also had a guy come to parent conferences that I see three times a week at exercise class. I didn’t recognize him without the undershirt and baseball cap.
Tips for Parents:
- Say hello to the principal. The job of the principal is to greet the parents and shake their hands and show them to their child’s teacher. He’s kind of like a maÃ®treÂ d’. So if you want to get a good appointment, make sure to slip the principal some money in your handshake.
- Now is the time to find out if the teacher really never gives homework on Thursdays, or if your child just doesn’t like doing homework on Thursdays.
- Walk up to random teachers and ask if they’re your child’s teacher. Teachers like to know that parents are involved like that.
- Make sure to ask questions that show that you’re paying attention, such as “How is my child doing socially?”; “How can I help at home?”; “How can I help at home if my child dorms?”; and “How come you guys call it PTA? What does the ‘A’ even stand for?” This is a good question, because in most of the world–public schools included–it’s called “parent-teacher conferences,” and PTA stands for “Parent—Teacher Association,” which is like a club, sort of like the Ladies Auxiliary, which makes the mishloach manos, organizes the Chinese auction, and sells a Pesach cookbook to benefit PS 613 or whatever.
But the “A” doesn’t have to stand for “association.” It can also stand for Aggravation, Accords, of America, Anonymous, Adversity, Animosity, Assimilation, Agitation, After-hours, Audience, Acrobatics, and Acronym. It can also stand for a third party that might be there:
- Parents, Teachers, Al-mighty
- Parents, Teachers, Attorney
- Parents, Teachers, Advil
- This is also a good time to ask about any concerns you may have, such as how much glue your child eats exactly, and what kind of hechsher it has.
- One thing you might want to do, if the conference is in your child’s classroom, is figure out which desk is his. This way you can know what he’s really doing in class, and you can also get that apple that he’s been saving since Rosh Hashanah. A good way to figure out which seat is your child’s is to look at the covers of the sefarim and check the name in them. If the sefarim in a particular desk don’t have covers, that’s probably the right desk.
- You should also take the opportunity to complain about your child’s seat. Never mind that there are only four “good” seats in the whole classroom, and if the teacher just stacks all the kids in those seats, the parents will complain that their kid is at the bottom of the stack.
- Take notes. This will show your teacher that you don’t know why your child doesn’t take notes, but he didn’t get it from you. If your spouse doesn’t want the blame either, you can both sit there taking notes.
- If you have younger children, bring a folding chair. Unless you want to sit on the tiny student chairs, balancing the desk on your knees while the teacher tells you that he doesn’t know why your son is distracted.
- If you’re not going to be able to come, call the teacher. But not during conferences.
- Don’t walk off with the teacher’s pen.
Tips for Hanhalah:
- Make sure the school is clean when the parents come.
- As the host, you should also stand there when the parents come in and say, “Sorry about the mess.”
Tips for Students:
- Prepare yourself for a bad report. Clean the house and make supper so your parents are in a better mood when they get home or so they have more time to discipline you.
- But just in case, come up with excuses, such as “Why are you surprised? You know how bad I am at listening!”
- If you’re the type of student to think ahead in case you get a bad report, you probably didn’t.
- Don’t leave anything incriminating in your desk, such as tests with low scores, lunches you asked for and didn’t eat, and live animals you caught during recess. The last thing you want is for them to fall out on your parents’ laps during conferences.Â v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.