Is there anything more nerve-wracking than parent-teacher conferences? That’s something they don’t tell you when you take the baby home from the hospital. It doesn’t matter how old, how smart, how good or how promising the child is, nothing puts our parenting skills to the test as much as a one-on-one with the teacher.
Parent-teacher conferences are the closest we’re going to get to a job performance review for the Mom position – the only problems are we don’t have quite as much control over the actions in question and there is no financial performance bonus.
I forget every year until conference time rolls around, and I’m face-to-face with the teacher waiting to hear The News. I mean, I have an idea of the kid’s performance from test scores and homework, but you just never know what that teacher has observed. She’s trained to detect even the itty-bittiest places for improvement. These “improvements” are code for: Holy crap, I should be doing what with my kid? Is everyone else doing that and I’ve totally missed the boat?
It starts in preschool when they whip out the “report card” with little pictures of age-appropriate skills. It’s all fine until you see “not yet mastered” checked in the “speaks in full sentences” box. Then you look down and see he’s above the age level in the “jumps with two feet” box. No surprise there. The chandelier is about to fall out of my ceiling from the roughhousing upstairs, so jumping is not a problem. The low marks from talking are obviously my fault considering I shove a binkie in his mouth with the slightest whimper. Mental note: take out the binkie long enough for him to tell me to give him his darn binkie so he can go jump.
Then we move on to elementary school. One kid needs more work with reading comprehension. Mental note: ask more questions about what we’re reading. Seems easy enough until I give it a go in real life and I remember why I never ask questions. I’ve got four kids pouncing on me every night when we read. I’m shouting random questions at one while two are tackling each other and the other is doing cartwheels. Seems my clan’s likely career path is the circus because college is clearly not going to be an option.
The other kid is doing great – just keep pounding in those multiplication facts. But all of a sudden I have so many mental notes in my head and the noise from the jumping upstairs is so loud that I can barely remember what 12×12 is myself. I’m so busy directing the clowns in the circus that days pass and I realize I haven’t shouted out a single multiplication fact. Dangit. Do you need to know multiplication to do the trapeze? I sure hope not.
Every year at our check-up I start to sweat when our pediatrician asks the kid what his or her favorite food is. I pray the kid will realize my reputation is on the line and say Brussel sprouts but no, PopTarts, pizza, and chicken nuggets are the usual suspects. Nervous laughter and a little prompting on my part, and I can usually eek out a “carrot” or “apple” from one of the kids.
But the parent-teacher conference is different. The kid isn’t there to help me out. He’s not there to testify that we do read a lot and we don’t watch TV constantly. Promise.
Nope, it’s just my word floating out there all alone.
I know the parent-teacher conference takeaways are all just suggestions for improvement – not criticisms of me personally. And I also know how lucky I am – my kids have hands-down the best teachers in all the land – they truly care about my kid’s performance. They’re not actually blaming me – they’re doing what they’re supposed to do – making sure my kids get the best education possible.
Which is what I’m also supposed to be doing right now. So I’ve gotta go…I’ve gotta go pepper my 1st grader with questions about some books, shout out some multiplication facts (I’ll keep my calculator handy), and listen to an “unplugged” 2-year-old repeatedly say “Me Candy” (that totally counts as a full sentence).
I’m totally scoring all As at the next parent-teacher conference. My kids are totally going to score all A+s on their next report cards. Just watch. But if not, at least we have a Big Top back up plan.