Printed on: April 02, 2013

The conflicts of growing up

Dawn Anderson
Local columnist

Parent-teacher conferences can be difficult, but in the end, they help everyone involved, writes Dawn Anderson.

I suspect that most teachers feel some ambivalence about the practice of parent-teacher conferences, as do I.

Meeting parents can be pleasantly social because a number of them turn out to be neighbors, old classmates or people from the business community. And it's always fun to put a child's last name with a recognized adult face.

I also like being able to set the record straight or sound a warning about an upcoming assignment. I appreciate when a parent gives me information that helps me understand his child better -- a recent divorce or move or birth in the family. I am relieved to release a child from my own naive expectations and start a new plan of action to help her succeed. Of course, I love the opportunity to praise a child and see the eyes of parents when they shine at me with unabashed pride.

But for some parents, meeting with a child's teacher is fraught with emotional difficulty, which brings me to the part I dread -- giving a parent the bad news. Your child disrupts me when I teach. Your child can be disrespectful to other students. Your child is failing my class. I learn from these encounters that there are battles fought and lost on the homefront, and often the academic and emotional costs are high.

When a parent becomes defensive after hearing bad news, it could mean that she has heard this refrain from teachers for so long that it feels like an attack on her kid, deserved or not. Or it could mean that this is the first incident reported on an otherwise clean school record and the shock of Junior doing something that the majority of kids do at one point or another -- goofing around, failing a class or sassing an adult -- is too much to absorb in a five-minute conference with a teacher.

But many parents already know what's coming because they have been engaged in the PTC war effort for years. These parents have fought the battle of low grades or destructive behavior problems enough now to earn them a Purple Heart in child rearing.

Even if the news is bad, though, a visit between a parent and teacher can go a long way in helping a student succeed. Parents and teachers become allies, thereby doubling their efforts. At the very least, the kid learns that there are caring adults who want her to reach her potential.

Whether parent-teacher conferences expand egos, raise hopes or merely confirm suspicions, they serve a useful purpose in American education by mitigating some of the conflicts of growing up.

Anderson is president of the Rexburg Education Association.