Visiting some of my favorite blogging friends last evening, I happened upon one blog post in particular that stuck with me all night and into today. It was by Amy at Permission to Peruse… and it was about a parent-teacher conference concerning her daughter, a kindergartner. The conference went well. Nothing out of the ordinary… you know, the “social butterfly” and “clique” and “comfort zone” talk, and the “encouragement” of what to do at home to help with academics and adjustment to kindergarten.
I wrote a comment to Amy about how I have sat on both sides of the desk. As a teacher. And as a parent. I must say that all the years of preparation I had in attaining my education degrees (BA, Rhode Island College and MA, Boston University) did nothing to prepare me for parent-teacher conferences like being a parent on the other side of that school desk. And one parent-teacher conference changed my life…
It was for Jane. My baby. My precocious little toddler who charged her way into her pre-school like a fullback hitting the line of scrimmage on 3rd and 1. She was ready. She had watched her older 2 brothers and sister head off to school, and she just couldn’t wait for her turn. Things were a bit different for Jane, though. Barry and I had let peer pressure get the best of us with our little Janie, and we didn’t send her to the YMCA pre-school… a great little school that was a couple of minutes from the school where Barry and I taught. Audrey had spent 3 wonderful years there playing and singing and dancing and running and giggling, and Keith and Adam had sports camp experiences at that YMCA that have stayed with them even ’til today. No. There was a very progressive pre-school/kindergarten program in our town where simply everybody sent their children. New. Clean and sparkling. With young teachers who spoke with high-pitched enthusiasm. And we caved.
So… on to a clear October evening of the first round of parent-teacher conferences. (There were 5 more scheduled for the academic year.) Barry and I pulled up our tiny chairs and sat like like good little grown-ups opposite the teacher, Miss First Name. Miss First Name shuffled a large stack of papers and then opened a notebook. Jane’s evaluation. I’ll never forget how the conference began… “Jane is having difficulty manipulating scissors with her left hand.” Period. Smile.
Barry and I sat there. “Is there more?” I thought. Long pause. Then I said in my most teacher-like explanatory voice, “Jane is right-handed.”
Ah. This is what Miss First Name was waiting for, because she then began to explain to us all about co-ordination and manipulation and following directions… pointing with her lovely manicured finger to each new category of skill sets organized so neatly in that big hunka papers and notebook. It seems that Jane, who would be turning 3 years old in a couple of weeks, was “behind.”
Ah. I wanted to say, “Jane knows how to READ. She knows EQUATIONS. She sings. She dances. She helps her sister put on musical shows for us and for anyone who will watch and listen. She studies maps. She giggles. She loves Junior Mints. She loves doggies and animals. She loves Barbie dolls. She is generous and kind. She listens to her brothers and sister and soaks in information like a teeny tiny blond sponge.” I wanted to tell Miss First Name something wonderful about my little Jane. I wanted to tell her all the wonderful new things that I discovered about Jane each day. But I didn’t. All I could think is, “I have to get Jane out of here.” One look at Barry and I knew we were on the same page.
With no fanfare what-so-ever, we quietly un-enrolled Janie from that prestigious little clean and shiny school and headed to that big, dusty, chilly YMCA just a couple of minutes from our school. The one with Mrs. Harrison. Where parent-teacher conferences were something like, “Jane drew a beautiful picture today” or “Jane took a nice long nap today” or “Jane needed a reminder to share her Junior Mints” as we picked her up each day. Just like it was with Audrey and Keith and Adam. The place where Janie could play and sing and dance and run and giggle.
But… you may be thinking, “OK. How did all of this change Sharon’s life?” This is how. I taught at a high school where many of the students were academically/economically disadvantaged. Just getting some of the parents to parent-teacher conferences was difficult… and I began to realize that it may be because these parents had little or sometimes nothing good to hear about their child. Can you imagine how challenging that would be… year after year? So I began to tell my students all the good things I would tell their parents if they came to parent-teacher nights. Something wonderful. Something wonderful… but still being honest with things such as late homework, missing tests, behavior issues, etc. It amazed me to see kids asking, “Will you tell my mom how ‘wonderful’ I’m being?”
This began what changed my life and my profession. I also encouraged the parent to tell me something wonderful about his or her child. You know… something I didn’t know. Something that perhaps I would have no way of knowing. Something the teenager might not share. The answers were always amazing. Things like… my son plays the organ at church. My daughter cares for her grandma every day after school. My son cooks at the homeless shelter. My child works 2 jobs to help me with my other kids. My child loves to draw. My daughter sings in the church choir. My son is the star player in his soccer league. And my favorite one of all… my daughter has a baby, but she comes to school every day to show her little girl how important it is.
I taught for 30 wonderful years. I had 4 children go through school systems. Now I have 9 grandchildren… all of whom are, or will be, heading into academia. I just hope and pray that their teachers discover the wonder in each of them.
Now, please tell me something wonderful about your child… or children. I’m sure it’s on the tip of your tongue… or fingers.
ps: Jane went on to graduate from Brown University with a concentration in American History. It seems Brown didn’t require proficiency in left-handed scissors manipulation as a graduation requirement. Now, isn’t that wonderful?!