My school organizes our parent-teacher conference schedules on long sheets of paper with each 3/4 inch blog representing 20 minutes of time. Some are individual conferences and others are group conferences where every teacher that student currently has is present to share feedback (this is my personal favorite style because you can begin to see a pattern quickly). Parents come, guardians come, and all of the family drama also comes. There have been breakthroughs, tears, outlines, awkwardness, and frustration. I’ve left confused, happy, and somewhat hurt but none will compare to my worst parent-teacher conference.
What made it the worst parent-teacher conference was simple – I was dealing with an administrator from another building. She couldn’t seem to take off her admin hat and view this from a parent perspective. Or maybe she WAS viewing from a parent perspective just the absolute worst parent perspective.
Let me give you some background. I have never had this person as an administrator nor any contact with them aside from seeing them in the hallway occasionally and giving a polite “hello”. Her daughter was enrolled in my ninth grade history class and was a very social and bright girl. The issue came right before Thanksgiving break when the student informed me (at the last minute, of course) that she wouldn’t be in class for the last two days because of a family vacation. She wanted the work that she would be missing – this would be fine with some notice because a majority of my material is group project based. I told her to continue with the online assignments (she had always been the first to complete because she loved her phone) and that she would be able to come back from break with her part determined by her group (she had friends in the group and I crafted the roles – no worries on this end).
Her group decided parts of the project and she returned after break to seamlessly work in her group. As a matter of fact, she and her best friend had completed the project with enough time to chat before the bell – something I called them on before turning in their assignment. While grading, I noticed that the student hadn’t completed the online assignments and her part of the group project could have seriously benefited from the extra time that she wasted chatting with her friend. She received a 0 for the online assignments (see this post on my late work policy) and a 27/40 for the project based on the rubric. Her A- became a B+ and the emails began almost immediately.
Our grading program immediately alerts parents and students to changes via text and email. Within a few minutes of saving my grades, the mom began to email asking for an explanation. I provided her with many of the same details from my explanation from above. This wasn’t enough. Her second email stated, “I expect that you will adjust her grades according to our conversation”. Say what? I forwarded the email to the assistant principal in my building assigned to the ninth grade students. He was flabbergasted but not surprised – this admin/mom seems to have developed a bit of a reputation as a not so understanding or nice person. When I replied to her email I made sure to carbon copy my assistant principal. I informed her that we could have a conference to further discuss my policies according to the signed syllabus but I would not be changing my grades based on her request. Of course, she wanted a conference and a date was set. My only request was that the student was there for the meeting.
I made sure to have my administrator present, sit near my policy board (by the student’s seat), and have the assignments and syllabus on hand. Admin/mom, dad, and the student came in and pleasantries were exchanged – manners and all that jazz. The admin/mom went on to explain why I should change my grades from her daughter – I once again declined while showing the late work policy page in my syllabus. After working that angle to no avail, admin/mom became more aggressive and attacked my assignment. Questioning the syllabus, the time frame, everything. This is when I turned to the student, I asked her questions about the assignment that mirrored her mother’s argument. “Did you have enough time?” – “Yes”, “Were you able to understand your part of the assignment?” – “Yes”, “Did you have any questions about the assignment?” – “No”. You could tell that admin/mom wasn’t happy that the student was substantiating my points. When I brought up the extra time that the student spent chatting with her friend, the admin/mom switched gears AGAIN and began to question my grading policies in regards to group work. I explained that each student had an individual grade and a group grade (based on the presentation) that were average to gain the score received. She questioned my grouping – I replied that her daughter chose her own group before going on vacation. Admin/mom (and dad occasionally would piggy-back) was still not happy and turned to my administrator with her hands in the air as if she was done with the conversation. It felt like she wasn’t able to crack me so my administrator should jump in and punish me. Luckily, I have an administrator who had my back and we had agreed before hand on a course of action. I wasn’t going to budge on the online assignments and that was made clear. In an effort to move the conversation along, I offered the student the opportunity to redo the group project (without the presentation) – they were not happy about the offer. The parents wanted me to change my grades without any additional effort or change from the student. Not. going. to. happen. The meeting ended on a tense note and a deadline was set for the project redo.
The student turned in the project and I thought the issue was resolved. Boy was I wrong! But I’m going to save that for another day when my blood pressure won’t be threatened.
The three things that I will always bring to a potentially volatile parent-teacher conference:
- an administrator who is familiar with the situation
- paperwork to substantiate your point(s): syllabus, signed parent paperwork, student work, student gradesheet, etc…
- the student – I know that I can’t bring this to the meeting but request the parents bring the student
Have you ever experienced a rough parent-teacher conference? Any advice?