I’ve had a couple of long days of parent-teacher conferences. Lots of engaging conversations, lots of excitement about growth, lots of reflection. I am proud to report that with a bit of cajoling, I managed to meet with 100% of my families. Cheers to that!
But, parent-teacher conferences inevitably bring to the surface all sorts of “What do I do?” thoughts. For example:
- What do I do when a parent mentions that his pleasant kid is always complaining that a few other kids are constantly being disruptive? He’s not wrong. And the mentioned kids are of course the kids who I, as their teacher, haven’t figured out how to puzzle into our community. And the mentioned kids have a variety of challenges, labels, and needs that make it particularly difficult for them to interact productively with others. I’m not quite ready to say “Yep, your son is accurately reporting the situation, and I have no idea what to do about it.” But somehow my response of, “The best thing you can do for Darnell is to encourage him to use his words when he’s upset, give his peers a fresh start after they make mistakes, and encourage him to keep being the best Darnell he can be,” feels a bit like it’s dodging the issue.
- What do I do when a mother goes on and on about all sorts emotional issues that completely overwhelm me? She talks about how the father, who I have never met, swears at her and is a terrible dad. She says the father tells Josiah that he doesn’t like him, that he only likes his older brother, and that this makes Josiah cry. She says she spends time with her daughter, not with Josiah because she’s a girl and she needs to teacher her how to be a woman. She says she wishes her husband was like other “good dads” she sees at school. I hope she takes my suggestion and begins to spend some time with Josiah so that his only attention isn’t when she’s punishing him. I hope I can somehow get Josiah enrolled in a Big Brother type of program.
- What do I do when parents express frustration with or distrust in other adults in the building? It’s really hard to balance being honest and respectful of their frustrations while also being professional and appropriate. I feel like they can tell that I’m biting my tongue.
- What do I do when a parent asks, “But you think he’s going to grow out of that, right?” and the parent so badly wants the answer to be “yes,” but the honest answer is, “No, I don’t”? Of course, I don’t know anything definitively, and all kids are beautiful mysteries to be revealed one small piece at a time. The best I can give is, “I’m not sure, but I think we should come together to act on the assumption that Martin will need some continuing supports.”
- What do I do when, after hearing a laundry list of concerns about her son, a mother says, “So what’s next?” and I honestly really truly do not know? I’ve tried so many things, and nothing’s helping her son be successful. And my ideas are exhausted. I was hoping she’d have some. She doesn’t.
I am lucky to be at a school with families who are present and who are willing to have these difficult conversations. That’s not to be taken for granted. But it would be nice if there was a “guaranteed right answers” manual that I could have on hand for every time I feel stuck. The cover would be filled with smiley faces and rainbows, and the bottom of every page would say “Give yourself a pat on the back, you answered correctly again!”