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.
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