I’ve just finished two hours of parent-teacher meetings and I have another longer session this evening.
This afternoon I saw the parents or guardians of twenty students. That means that meetings lasted about six minutes each.
I like parent-teacher meetings. I like them as a parent, but I like them more as a teacher.
As a parent, I like seeing my son’s teachers and hearing what they have to say about him and his work habits. It is not always pleasant news, but it is essential information that helps me help him.
As a teacher, I like meeting the parents because it often gives me more of an insight to their children, sometimes more by how they look and act than by what they say or don’t say.
But what I like most about meeting with parents is that having to articulate my thoughts about their children forces me to solidify and clarify my thinking. Sometimes, like today, it takes my thinking in new directions.
I teach social studies. Or I try to. The problem is that by the time they get to 7th or 8th grade a great many students have decided they don’t like social studies. They say that it is boring.
I tell students that social studies is just the study of people and society, but they’ve gone through years of social studies being about names and dates, not ideas and how they are expressed.
Today I heard some unexpected things coming out of my mouth.
I told parents of 7th grade students that it really doesn’t matter if their son or daughter can identify the differences between proprietary and royal colonies on North America in the 17th and 18th Centuries, and I told parents of 8th graders that it doesn’t matter if their child can identify the three proposals for dealing with the aftermath of the Civil War (or, if you are reading this in one of the former Confederate states, the War of Northern Aggression).
I told the parents that the content was exciting to me but that chances are their child’s life would not be significantly different if he or she did or didn’t understand the War of 1812.
Then I committed the heresy of heresies; I said that the content I teach isn’t important, but the skills are. “The content is just what we hang the skills onto so we can teach them.”
But that wasn’t what really surprised me.
What really got me was when I started telling parents that school is a weird place. I said that for some children the context of school is more damaging than beneficial. Even so, I said, it is something that one must go through to get to that point in life when that hyperactivity or singular focus their child has becomes a positive attribute instead of a negative one.
I said that school is a bizarre way to prepare children for adult life because in so many cases school tells children that they are mediocre at best, failures at worst.
Be patient, I said, and you’ll see many of what teachers call negatives turn into positives not because the child changes but because the context does.
I think in many cases parents come to these meetings already knowing what teachers are going to tell them about their child. They keep hoping that they’ll hear something different, that their boy is now staying in his seat and persevering, or that their social butterfly daughter has settled onto a branch and is drinking the sweet nectar of math or whatever, but that’s not what they get.
Usually they just get more of the same.
Not this year, at least not from me.
I saw hope where even I had not seen it before. I advocated patience I don’t always exhibit. I was telling parents these things, but I was also telling myself.
Keep expectations high, but relax.
There are more important qualities than being able to pass a test.
Heart, courage, leadership and emotional strength are there in their kids.
The kids are all right.