Poor Elijah's Almanack: Swords and Plowshares during Parent-Teacher Conferences

By Berger, Peter | New Haven Register (New Haven, CT), November 9, 2015 | Go to article overview

Poor Elijah's Almanack: Swords and Plowshares during Parent-Teacher Conferences


Berger, Peter, New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)


Armistice Day commemorates the end of World War I. Ironically it's also when many schools schedule parent conferences. Few events occasion as much adrenaline pumping, stomach churning, and hyperventilating.

It's easy to understand why parents get anxious. Their most cherished product is the topic of conversation. Across the table most teachers take their work seriously, too. Conferences mean we often have to deliver bad news. And we can count on some disappointed, heated, even hostile treatment along the way.

Some workshops train teachers to "facilitate" conferences. Teachers learn "mirroring," which is when you "build trust" by repeating what the other guy just said so he knows you're listening. Paraphrasing, which is when you sort of repeat what the other guy just said, supposedly "calms and clarifies." Trainees also explore "conflict styles," like competing, collaborating, and compromising, which cleverly start with the same letter, as do the three resistance strategies - retreat, re-evaluate, and reapproach.

Like most contrived education "models," the best parts of facilitating are common sense, and the rest is silly. It also doesn't work when somebody's either adamant or unreasonable. One workshop instructor acknowledged as much when he halted a role- playing exercise because the teacher who was playing the parent wouldn't back down the way she was supposed to when she got facilitated. The instructor said she had "too much invested" in her role.

In other words, she was acting like a real parent.

So let's agree to put gimmicks like facilitating aside. Instead here are some pointers for both sides of the table.

1. Most parents are reasonable, and most students are decent kids. But the world is home to more than a few selfish and unbalanced people, and some of them have children. They also often have lawyers, and they rave and threaten behind the veil of confidentiality in order to get what they want. Regular parents need to know this so they can understand why teachers may sometimes seem defensive. Teachers need to relax and remember that most parents aren't the problem.

2. Schools and school boards need to stand up to unreasonable parents, and their advocates and lawyers. We have a responsibility to our students and towns not to allow the irresponsible demands of irrational people to continue to corrupt public education.

3. Learning isn't a team sport. When Jordan Spieth misses a putt, nobody blames his coach or his mother. Occasionally parents and teachers contribute to a student's academic problems, but most of the time the problem lies with the student's ability or effort. …

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