Managing through the parent-teacher conference

Halloween is behind us, the candy has been donated, and the decorations are starting to come down.  ‘Tis the season for the real horror show of JV mothers – the parent-teacher conference.  One of the most poignant and clear memories most parents have is dropping a child off on their first day of kindergarten.  For me, my son was almost a year younger than his classmates.  We had just moved to the neighborhood and, during drop off, it felt like everyone there knew each other.  Eventually, my son made friends, we met other parents, and drop off became the morning social hour.  But, the real surprise came in the form of our first parent teacher conference.

My son’s kindergarten teacher had been teaching full time for less than five years.  Not to be an ageist, but she looked like she could have been his older sister. I came prepared with a notebook and ready to hear that he was a model student and clearly an academic wizard.  This was of course going to be the case.  How could it not be with my husband – the Varsity Parent – who was home full-time to give him all the enrichment, coaching, and encouragement he needed.  Well, the following happened:  his teacher let us know that he was a smart kid, but not exceptional kid.  Also, that he was really struggling with reading… and could not resist the urge to sing out loud.  I burst into tears and had not so nice things to say to my husband.  And, of course, this all transpired in front of my son, because in this day of enlightened schooling, it is now the student-led parent teacher conference.  The most pernicious part was the guilt:  Would it be different if I were home or spent more time reading, coaching, and encouraging? 

It was irrational and, sadly, became a theme for the first three years of his schooling.  The semi-annual parent-teacher conference finally reached the point of being comedic; but, not before hurt feelings and between me and my husband and creating dread in son for the event.  But, eventually, I learned the following.

  • Our children are our children, not us. My husband and I had an easy time through school.  My parents never once had to sit with me to do homework.  Well, school is different and so are our children.  Sometimes it scares me because I can’t relate and don’t feel like I can help.  Other times, it delights me to see how much they love subjects I hated or show real promise in art or music. 
  • The world takes all kinds to go round. As an adult, we can clearly see how many different skills and talents are needed in society and the variety paths that can be taken to lead a meaningful life.  It is only when we are in school that we are measured using one standard and where children often feel that they have one path to being seen as exceptional.  Lately, my favorite explanation has been to compare “smarts” to health.  We measure health in a variety of ways – our DNA, weight, blood pressure, what we eat, etc.  Our “smarts” or our predictors of future success are just as complicated and cannot be reduced to a grade on a test or a GPA.
  • Healthy, happy and sane. We have a good friend who would say that those were the only three qualities that he used when finding a partner.  Well, the truth is those are also the only three things that matter in being a good human.  There have been teachers that have understood my children and knew how to connect and encourage them and those that just did not.  But, we all hope to raise children who have perspective, the ability to forgive, and possess a sharp mind and open heart.