Parent Teacher Conferences? Be there?

We have always viewed the education of our sons to be a team effort – between us and their teachers. But, what if a member of the team fails to show up?

Today is the first parent teacher conference day for fall term at our high school. It is a time I have always enjoyed. I know that sounds weird, but our boys have typically done well in school and also have been known to be kids the teachers enjoy having in class, so it is nice to chat with different people about their progress.  I also really like a lot of our teaching staff, on a personal level.

However, one thing about PT conferences in our district has bothered me for several years. I am not sure about what the administration’s message to staff is about their attendance .  As in any district, many of our teachers also coach our athletic teams.  Starting in middle school, it became obvious that teachers with coaching jobs were allowed to prioritize their coaching obligations over their classroom obligations.  The prioritization is evidenced by the coach – teacher not being at conferences at all, or being at conferences for only an abbreviated time frame – namely, after practice.

This bothers me. All of our students have these teachers for classes, but only a certain percentage have them as coaches.  Should not your teaching responsibilities come first?  In middle school, we never saw one of our son’s science teachers because he coached both fall and spring sports. He had abbreviated hours for PT conferences, but these hours conflicted with the hours we were able to attend conferences.  Yes, there is some communication stating that if families cannot make conferences, they can contact their child’s teacher with any concerns.  But, what if it is the teacher that simply does not attend  conferences? I think this action sends families the wrong message. The message from the teacher is that my athletes are more important than my classroom students.  This is wrong. Despite having student altheletes, now at the high school level, we continue to see this and continue to feel that it is wrong.

And, it does not stop at coaching. One year, my son’s English teacher was at a professional development conference during PT conferences. I hope it was important and something that would benefit student learning to have her miss conferences. And occasionally, but routinely, there are empty “tables” at conferences with the teacher’s name – they just are not there – no rhyme or reason stated. A few years ago, a world language teacher was absent during conferences, he left a sign up list for parents who stopped by his table to chat. It stated he would contact us. We were not contacted. Were others?  There has also been a recent trend to have club fundraisers at PT conferences. I understand why a fundraiser, especially a food related fundraiser, would be scheduled during this time. Lots of people attend conferences. However, again, if the teacher is an advisor, their place is at their table to greet parents and inform them on their students’  progress, not scooping out barbecue. We learned a couple of years ago that trying to get a progress report over the barbecue table in the parking lot would be fruitless. Frustrating.

Look, I know teachers have lives and other obligations after school that might preclude their attendance at PT conferences.  And on the flip side, to be fair, it is a two-way street.  It is a very long day for teachers, when you teach all day and then have to stay into the evening to discuss your students with their families.  I can empathize with that. And, I know that some of those conversations have to be hard. I also know that sometimes the teachers sit for hours have no one approach their table for a conference. Families have to show up, too! I totally understand all of that. We have also seen a veteran teacher stay for conferences when he shouldn’t have, due to being very ill. Honestly, we thought he was going to pass out on us! So, I am realistic. I know that there will be some teacher absences, some very legitimate reasons for teachers not being at parent teacher conferences.

I just wish the message was different. I can honestly handle most of the reasons for absence with the exception of the coach who is with their athletes instead of their classroom students. And, for all those to might not experience this, how lucky you are!  Thank your teachers for their dedication!



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