Saturday, February 21, 2009

Parent Conferences

We met with parents last week to discuss their children and their progress.

Some of the conferences were enlightening to say the least. And I return again to notion that we as educators are totally missing the boat when it comes to adolescent education.

These adolescents are between 11 and 15 years old. Yet they are often put under an amazing set of pressures that sometimes we just add to.

Here are some samples of the conferences. In one, S., a wonderfully creative, sensitive girl of 13, sat between her mother and father. S. is in the special education program with a learning disability. S. is also a very emotional girl fully in the midst of puberty. She's not thinking about school much right now. She's thinking about boys, her body, boys, her friends and social status, her image, and boys. Her mom, on the other hand, is all about school. The mom, who works with high-powered kids, was pretty brutal to the girl. The mom demanded changes and voiced expectations that the girl could not meet, especially at this time in her life. Yes, S. needs to learn a balance between school and her social life, but that learning should be what we develop in our classrooms.

In another conference, a very bright boy, M., sat far away from his father. M. is pretty disengaged from school right now, but he kept looking at me in the conference for help. His father groused and complained and told us that his boy was no good, had never been any good. My heart was breaking throughout the conference, and I told M.'s father very clearly that M. was taking some good steps forward, that he was a good boy, and needed support. M., though, is not going to get that support from his father.

My colleague and friend John talked frankly with another parent about J., who is new to our school and desperately trying to "fit in" and try on different social groups. J. is trying, but his efforts don't always work out.

Yes, these are emotional issues that have nothing to do with learning science and social studies and algebra.

But what if we recreated our curriculums in ways that allowed S. and M. to investigate the issues that matter to them? What if they were allowed, for instance, to investigate questions that really meant something to them?

And what if they pursued questions that concerned them in an environment at school that allowed for mistakes, that graded on effort, that provided a supportive environment where kids actually learn?

I don't know how many conferences we sat through that involved kids who didn't do well on tests. Kids who can tell me complex stories and fix my cell phone don't know how to learn. And they don't want to learn material that has nothing to do with their lives, has zero relevance to their lives.

Once again, I come back to the notion that it's all about the kids. That's the bottom line. If we know what they need for their learning and their futures, why in god's name aren't we teaching that way?

The answers, obviously, are numerous, entrenched, and complex.

And I certainly never pretend to have all the answers. I'm constantly reading material looking for ideas how to pull this kind of classroom off.

But I know that on Monday, I'm sitting down with S. and M. in a conference of our own. And I'm going to ask them what they need from me, what we can work on together, what they want to learn, how I can satisfy the needs for grades.

I'm going to listen to and learn from them. And in the process, they will make me a better teacher.

Maybe their parents might start listening to them too.

At the very least, I'm going to do what I can to create a situation for S. and M. and the other kids where their parents have nothing from school to hammer them with.

At the very least, I'm going to call home and force the parents to hear me tell them what kind of positive impact their children are having on our classroom.

And at the very least, I'm going to call home, as often as I need to, to remind the parents just how cool and wonderful their kids are.

1 comment:

  1. Paul - I hope my daughter is lucky enough to have teachers throughout her life that care as much as you do about their transformation into productive, well grounded, creative, self-appreciative, intelligent...
    ...members of society.

    What you do makes a difference - NEVER LOSE SIGHT OF THAT!

    Thank you for what you help these kids achieve.