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Devlyn Brooks, Published March 03 2009

Brooks: Dad passes parent-teacher conference

Fresh off my quarterly parent-teacher conferences, I’m riding a wave of euphoria.

According to both kids’ teachers, I passed with flying colors.

Sure, traditional wisdom would have you believe that the parent-teacher conference is an opportunity for your children’s teachers to share how they’re doing with you.

But, deep down, every parent knows this secret: That conference is as much about your parenting skills as it is about your child’s academic skills. Without anyone saying it, that conference is a periodic exam for parents, a sort of Iowa Basics test without all of the filling in of little bubbles.

I have nothing to worry about when I go to visit with my sons’ teachers. By all accounts, they are bright kids who have good study habits and are well-mannered. The bonus is they love school.

I’m not afraid that I’ll hear their teachers say they’re rotten devil children who don’t listen and don’t want to learn. No, that’s not the case at all.

Regardless, every time conferences roll around there’s this little knot that forms in the pit of my stomach. Questions such as, “What if they tell me I’m a rotten parent?” fester quietly in my mind.

The fear comes from the inherent but unspoken meaning of parent-teacher conferences. While they are billed as an academic checkup about your child, they’re really tantamount to a parental exam.

College students going to graduate school have to face the GRE or the LSAT. Future attorneys have to pass the bar. And parents have to pass the parent-teacher conference, the opportunity for a teacher to tell you that you must be doing OK ’cause Little Billy is doing fine in math and doesn’t come to school with dirt under his fingernails.

Sure, they say the conference is about the kids, but if that were true, you’d think they could accomplish that by sitting the kid down and telling them, “You’re doing fine in math, slipping a little in reading, and, oh, you need to work on those classroom behaviors.” That would be a student-teacher conference, and by the way, they already take place every day in the classroom.

The parent-teacher conference, on the other hand, has been established so teachers can tell parents that Little Billy is doing fine in math, slipping a little in reading, and, oh, he needs to work on those classroom behaviors. Meaning … Dad, you need to help Little Billy learn to behave in class.

Because let’s be honest, the skills, behaviors and attitudes that Little Billy is displaying in the classroom begin or don’t begin at home. Each child possesses their own abilities, talents and intelligence, but their willingness and desire to apply those traits is vastly shaped by their parents.

Children who aren’t prepared for the rigors of school aren’t the ones to blame. And that is what parent-teacher conferences are about: a veiled effort to disguise the measuring of your parenting skills.

Thankfully, on Friday, I passed for another quarter.

Devlyn Brooks is a news editor at The Forum. He lives with his two sons in Moorhead and writes about parenting at his blog www.areavoices.com/singledad