My wife and I have attended upwards of 50 parent-teacher conferences collectively for our three children. For the past decade, we have dutifully scheduled fall and spring conferences. Now that the two older children are in middle school, where the fall parent-teacher conferences are not required, we no longer attend unless requested to do so by the teachers. I’ve thought about opting out of my youngest conferences as well. Not because I don’t enjoy the conversation with the teacher or because I don’t believe in the importance of the relationship between parents and teachers, but because I rarely learning anything new about my child at a parent-teacher conference.
With grades online, e-mail alerts, blog posts (both my kids and their teachers), personal phone calls, personal e-mails, homework folders, assignment books, class newsletters, curriculum nights, Facebook posts, tweets, and an open invitation to volunteer as often as I would like, I know more about what happens in my kids’ learning lives than my parents ever knew of mine. My parents had to go to parent-teacher conferences to learn about me, the student. As a parent, I don’t need to do the same. Their teachers let me know at least weekly about their lives as a student. I know what they are reading, writing, calculating and solving. I know if they are too social or too quiet, if they are struggling or excelling, if they love math and/or reading, if they are “proficient” or better on the state tests, or if they love learning or not way before I ever walk into a parent-teacher conference.
As a result, the parent-teacher conference often starts with “As you already know…”
Yes. Yes I do.
Instead of rehashing all that we already know, let’s give the time spent saying nothing new back to teachers. Let’s give them time to study. To learn. To connect. To spread their passion. If the reason we have parent-teacher conferences is to solidify the relationship between parents and teachers and to improve communication, it’s time to acknowledge that teachers are already really good at doing that. They are doing it during their prep periods, their lunch breaks, after school, before school, in the evening, in the morning, and on the weekends. They know that part of that relationship building may be a parent-teacher conference, scheduled periodically as needed, not as mandated. They are using social media and opening their classrooms to build relationships because they already know that relationships are key and thus have rendered the parent-teacher conference a 20-minute exercise in trying to come up with something new to say. In a time when we demand more and more from teachers, perhaps giving the time they spend on parent-teacher conferences is a great way to start giving something back.
There are 600 students at our local elementary school. Each student has two, 20-minute conferences a year. Collectively that’s a total of 24,000 minutes, or 400 hours of time that we can give back to our teachers. I’m willing to bet they will make great use of that time.
And once we give them this time back, we can start talking about giving them back the time they spend completing quarterly report cards…
Tony Baldasaro is the chief human resource officer of Virtual Learning Academy Charter School in New Hampshire. Having been a teacher, a building administrator, a district-level administrator and now a statewide charter-school administrator, Baldasaro has come to strongly believe that education needs to provide multiple pathways and opportunities for students, that there is no one path to learning. Hence, he spends much of his professional time advocating for use of multiple pathways for students. In addition to writing here, he blogs regularly at TonyBaldasaro.com.