Thursday, May 14, 2009

Time to Rethink Parent Teacher Conference Days?

Today is the final installment of the DCPS parent-teacher conference days, and schools all over the District are eagerly awaiting parents so that teachers can discuss their children's progress. The problem with these days is that they don't work. They serve mostly as a colossal waste of time for teachers (who have to be here from noon until 7 pm), students (who miss an instructional day), and parents (who come up to school and spend 5 minutes either being praised or denigrated by teachers, depending on their child's performance). So maybe it's time to rethink conference days.

Obviously, parents and teachers should spend more time (not less) discussing student progress. For parents and teachers who really take advantage of these days, a lot of good can come from them. My objection to parent conference days is that they are applied all in the same way throughout the district, as though the needs of high school students are the same as the needs of kindergartners.

My thought is that conferences at the high school level should be drastically different from conference days in the elementary schools. In high schools, students should be required to discuss their progress themselves along with teachers and parents. The conferences should be spread out so they are ongoing throughout the year, on the off chance that an issue arises some time other than the four prescribed conference days. And, the conferences should be done on an as-needed basis. Perhaps this could be accomplished if schools could have the authority to modify their schedules or introduce half-days every other week to accommodate these types of meetings.

The reality is that teachers who are really doing a good job are in contact with parents throughout the year to discuss issues in the classroom. In general, the only parents I see on conference days are the ones I don't need to see -- the ones whose children are earning A's and are star students. Perhaps if we rethink the way we structure conferences, we could focus our time on helping parents and students solve problems. Until then, though, I sit in my room and wait for the parents to come.


Tracy said...

Excellent know you can still email thoughts to 825 about the calendar...maybe you should do that.

ELL Teacher said...

We had parent-teacher conferences in my school with very few parents showing up. I swear some teachers didn't send out notices til the last minute, or at all. Teachers just used the time to do work in their classrooms and clean up, as we have 4 more weeks of school. It was a big waste of time. Historically though, the May conferences are poorly attended because if you don't know how your kid is doing by now, it's too late. And no one retains anyone anymore anyway.

Anonymous said...

ELL, please tell me you're not saying it's the teachers' fault the parents don't show up? I certainly hope not, since all 4 P-T days were on the DCPS and individual school's calendars.

Glenn Watson said...

And no one retains anyone anymore anyway.>>>

Is that really true in DC. I fail kids every year, even more than usual this year.

ELL Teacher said...

Of course the p/t conferences are on the system wide and individual school calendars, on the website, in the monthly newsletters we send home. However in my experience, if teachers don't send home the notice with the sign-up sheet or give parents specific times to come plus a reminder notice, the turn-out is poor. Plus have the bilingual aide call homes in Spanish as needed to tell those parents to come, that interpreters will be there for them. It's ridiculous. You're right anon, parents had many opportunities to know about these conferences. Why do we always have to send home so many reminders? But I'm just saying, we had so few show up yesterday.

Anonymous said...

Here's where your implementation idea has borne fruit:

My child's charter school did student-led conferences back in March. 2 hours per conference and the child led the parents through all the activities and learning stations, in English, Chinese, Art, and PE. And these are Pre-K to 1st graders.

Crazy/awesome, huh?

Kings said...

“Although I'm a relatively new teacher, I have decided to make education my career”

I notice you say “education” and not “teaching.” I’ve noticed this terminology before from TFA types, specifically the stat (not sure if it’s right) that 60% of TFAers stay in education. First of all it doesn’t specify what area of education they stay in, so it could be administration or starting a teaching recruitment organization, like Rhee did or working for a think-tank. It’s weasly, as you would know, Mr Potter, because you teach statistics. It tells me that 60% for sure do not stay in teaching and that TFA is trying to mislead people that they do. Also, it doesn’t say how long they stay in education – 5 years? 10 years? Please let us know – I’m sure the information exists. Also tell us what the other 40% do.

“Perhaps more TFA teachers (and new teachers in general) would stay longer if their workplaces weren't so toxic. Maybe if more established teachers were willing to help out the new teachers, fewer of us would go running for the hills”

Sounds reasonable. Maybe if more established teachers felt TFA teachers actually wanted their help and valued it, they’d be more willing to offer it. Then again, it’s understandable that the vets might be a bit reticent if the TFAers come in feeling superior and eyeing the vets jobs, and the chancellor makes it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that she thinks young teachers are good and vets are bad.

“I've never seen a TFAer fall asleep during class, curse at students, or be generally incompetent.”

That’s nice. Obviously that behavior shouldn’t be tolerated even among a small minority of teachers, regardless of their length of service.

Administrators who don’t use the 90 day plan on teachers who act in these ways are incompetent themselves.