Today is the Autumnal Education Equinox – the longest day of the teacher’s year: Parent Teacher Conferences. Arriving at school at 6:45 am, I will be leaving at 8:45 pm, and arrive back at school tomorrow at the same time for round two. I don’t mind conferences at all, except for this intense two day period. Tomorrow is a half-day; school is open to parents from 12:15 to 2:15, and the six class periods being held in the morning are shortened to 33 minutes each. The classes meet earlier than their normal times because of this schedule, so absenteeism is high. I’m not happy to lose the day of instruction, especially with my Algebra 2 kids.
In Discrete Math, the kids have been working hard on their probability games, creating (among other things) some great artwork for the classroom. I’ve gotten in touch with a number of parents in those classes in recent weeks (behavior issues, unfortunately), and I’m hoping some of them will come up to school. Traditionally, however, my elective classes bring in fewer parent/guardians than my core classes. In Algebra 2, I just returned an exam on which many students did poorly. This is a ‘gifted’ track class, so I am expecting a big turnout.
I was very busy the first night, which is good, and had a fair mix of visitors from both of my courses – Discrete Math and Algebra 2. As predicted, there were a fair number of Algebra 2 parents who were concerned about their children’s last test grade, and I spelled out for each of them the steps I was taking to support the children in their preparation for the upcoming exam – detailed review sheet mirroring the exam with an answer key,creating weekend study partnerships, and group review of the exam the day before it is to be given – and what their children could do to help themselves – review class notes and problems, ASK questions in class, seek extra help, work through the review. (I felt a little like a broken record, but the truth is that most students need to do all of these things.) I love being able to share details about their children’s classroom aspect with parents; I remember how important that was when i was on the other side of the table (nothing worse than feeling like your child is not much more than a line in a teacher’s gradebook).
I also had several parents who I had contacted regarding lack of work or challenging behavior on the part of their children; I was very glad to be able to have those conversations face to face, particularly if the student was there. Some meetings were difficult, however; a student who I cannot engage in one of my Discrete Math classes laughed at his parents as they tried to find out why he refused to participate in any way in my class. At the very end of the evening, after parents were theoretically no longer to be in the building, I had the opportunity to speak with the mother of a student who has pushed my tolerance to the limit this term – taunting others, copying work, and when submitting work, drawing pornographic pictures on it (don’t ask). Denying his culpability to the last moment, this boy finally agreed to make up some missing work over the long Thanksgiving weekend. We’ll see.
The half day of classes went very quickly – when periods are a wee bit longer than a half hour, they fly by. But most of my Algebra 2 kids were in attendance, and dove into correcting the aforementioned exam. But when conferences began, the afternoon moved much more slowly – I had only 6 visitors. In fact, I wrote most of the recap of Thursday night while I waiting for parents. I had a meeting with one more mother of a student who chooses not to do work but rather to argue with and bait me in Discrete Math; this mother is relying on faith to help her son as her other strategies have failed. She thanked me for my patience, but I wish we could have come up with a better plan. I’ll keep trying in class. And so another season’s Parent Teacher Conferences have ended.
1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of? What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?
I was proud of my launching of the ‘Weekend Study Buddies’ initiative in my Algebra 2 classes; enough students signed up in each class to indicate that it could be a worthwhile effort. Maybe I can be even more structured about this in the future.
I had a few parents who weren’t satisfied with hearing that ‘many students didn’t do well on the last exam’ and I don’t blame them. This doesn’t address their child’s specific needs, and I am certain that many of them say to their kids (as I said to mine), “I don’t care what other children do, I only care what YOU do”. I wish I could have given them more specific information about their child’s performance on the exam, but honestly, with 102 students in Algebra 2, I just didn’t have the data.
2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately?
I am looking forward to my first attempt at a group exam process next week. I hope it improves the results and the students’ level of preparation when it comes to working on their own. A challenge? The flip side of the previous sentence – trying to figure out how to promote deeper understanding of ideas that I think have been clearly presented, how to formatively assess more frequently and effectively so I am not blindsided by clear evidence that deep understanding has not been achieved.
3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.
I had a lovely moment with some of the boys in an Algebra 2 class today. Our school won the New York City PSAL Baseball Championship last year; apparently we have a number of young superstars, and the winning pitcher is in my 3rd period class. These boys are already being recruited by colleges; some commit to an institution as early as their sophomore year, only to find out that ‘better’ schools might want them enough to provide full scholarships later on. We discussed the pros and cons of making an early decision, and they made me promise that ‘when’ they were in the Championship series again this year, I would attend the game (I sadly could not last June).
4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What have you been doing to work toward your goal? How do you feel you are doing?
The attainment of my goal of building better relationships with my students is progressing in many cases, but not all. I am working towards seeking more educational opportunity for all of them, and looking honestly at myself and my behaviors that may or may not promote that. As I faced the parents of my black and Muslim students, I thought about the racism and prejudice they face, and their fears in light of the presidential election result. I want to be an ‘ally’ in the true sense of the word. I am trying to use my empathy and privilege to create safe spaces. I don’t know if I am succeeding, although I have made it clear that equity is a theme in my classroom.
5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?
November 2016 has not been my favorite month. The world is changing in a way that I cannot predict. I don’t want to live in fear, but rather channel my grief and outrage into action, as mentioned in the previous paragraph. I’m hoping to find co-conspirators in this effort, and to hold myself accountable to that goal.
And I hope my Algebra 2 kids do better on the next exam…. ; )