A Few Good Moms: Conferences

The game of Hold it Together Until You Get Home is great for school, not so great for parents.
The game of Hold it Together Until You Get Home is great for school, not so great for parents. Getty Images/Creatas RF

The mom flips open the calendar and notices a random day off for the kids. Interestingly, they will be home – but she will be at school. She has seen her son’s progress report and all seems to be going well. There shouldn’t be any surprises at her conference . . . right?

You want the truth about parent-teacher conferences? I think you can handle it.

When my son first started “big school” I had a bit of anxiety about meeting with his teachers. I just wasn’t sure about the feedback I was going to get at my parent-teacher conference.

Especially when we went through an unenviable phase when the name of the game was Hold it Together Until You Get Home. My kid would come in after a long day in kindergarten and proceed to, ah, work out his stress. Seemingly unrelated interactions could trigger epic meltdowns. Who knew what would set him off? There was no rhyme or reason to this adventure, except to blow off some serious steam.

The thing was, my son tended to be enormously well behaved out in the world – to a degree that seemed to contribute to his imploding once he was home. Of course, I could only assume he was holding it together at school; surely we would have heard otherwise from his teachers. Unless they were saving up for our parent-teacher conference . . .

So when our conference day arrives, my husband and I sit down across from my son’s teacher and try to look confident and relaxed. I brace myself for whatever she has to say. Which is this:

“So . . . how do you think it’s going?”

Uh, what? Oh, man. Trick question! Can I read anything into the tone? Like, uh, yeah, clearly you are raising a tiny Tasmanian devil who rips up the classroom up like a possessed tornado, how do you think that’s going? Or maybe that’s not it at all, she is smiling in a really nice way, maybe we’re good . . .

My husband shifts uncomfortably in his seat and I don’t make eye contact with him as I try to decide how to answer her. It seems enormously unfair to throw my son under the bus if he has, in fact, been really good at school. So my response comes out something like, “Oh well, you know, huh . . . right . . . hmmm . . . and all in all everything like, yes. Hard to say exactly. So anyway, how do you think it’s going?”

We go back and forth like that for a bit (so apropos for kindergarten, such a fun game! What do you think? No, you! No, no you first!) as sweat trickles down my back. Thankfully before long all is revealed: she says that he is doing really great, and my husband and I share the truth of what we are experiencing at home, too.

This year that former kindergartener is in middle school, and our conference is student-led. Awesome! As I settle into my spot in his advisory classroom I am smug knowing that there won’t be any parental anxiety with this one. That is, until my son reveals that his presentation will be in the form of a game where his father and I will be tested on material from all of his classes. So this will be another day that I don’t quite make the grade, but the truth is, I don’t have to have all the answers about my kid . . . especially when his teacher is right there beside me.

Want to get a better handle on revelations from parent-teacher conferences? Check out the thinking behind student led conferences, watch conferencing parents turn on each other in the movie Parenthood, and jam with this former English teacher (I wonder how many moms set up extra meetings with him back in the day!)