816 North Opinion

Susan Vollenweider | Mom to teachers: You were a joy to have in my parent conference

I sat in silence in the parked minivan and analyzed my mood: a combined sense of trepidation and optimism. What lay ahead of me, the marathon of conversation and emotion was then unknown … but I had to know.

I had to.

Fueled by curiosity and positive self-talk, I traveled to another dimension, a dimension of not only information and revelation, but of the unmistakable smell of learning (and disinfectant and three entrée choices for lunch).

I entered the Parent-Teacher Conference Zone.

*Twilight Zone music here*

That week’s calendar had one kid event at the beginning, one at the end and, in the middle, “Parent-Teacher Conferences — Noah, 4:30; High School, 5-7:30.”

Three kids, two schools, 17 teachers, three hours. It sounded like a reality show.

Normally I attend parent-teacher conferences over a couple of days, but this year it had to be done in one shot. But I was experienced. I knew what to expect.

I suspect the basic outline of the parent-teacher conference hasn’t changed much since Laura Ingalls Wilder was a kid.

“Laura is a joy to have in class. She has a very vivid imagination. As this chalkboard graph shows, her baseline scores on standard beginning-of-the-year testing…”

The first time a teacher told me that my kid was a “joy” to have in class, my heart swelled.

“An education professional sees the perfect and wonderful in my child!” I thought. “She will be academically gifted, socially active and get a full-ride, early admission to an Ivy League college by junior high.”

But by the third child, if I didn’t hear that a kid was a “joy” or “pleasure” to have in class, I figured that I was facing a teacher who didn’t want to blow smoke up my … blow smoke my way. I have a suspicion that it’s part of a spiel taught in Teacher College and designed to buffer some other not-so-great-to-hear news.

This year, apparently, my kids are all a joy or pleasure.

Ah, but one “is quite a showman.” Another “has a little temper on him,” and the third “could speak up more.” Yup, butter me up so the negative stuff slides off. It’s OK. I’m used to it.

While some things remained the same as previous years’ conferences — elementary school chairs are still lower than a woman of my age can get into or out of gracefully and I knew better than to use the student restroom — some things have changed.

I sat down in Noah’s fourth-grade classroom across from his two teachers. After the joy/not joy thing, they whipped out a stack of papers. Oh, I know this. His classwork so far…

Nope. I got a mini lesson in teaching theory, strategy and expectations. At least I think that’s what it was, as they flipped around teacher lingo and graphs like I do Saturday morning pancakes.

It was very impressive even if I understood only about half of it.

At least I think I understood.

With my brain spinning, I headed to the high school, where I walked into a gymnasium full of teachers sitting alphabetically in long rows waiting to make my head spin some more.


But I got to them all. Every single teacher. I didn’t like all that I heard, but I heard it all and took notes. Two hours later I spun out of the school, back into the minivan and headed for another dimension: the Post-Conference Recap with the Kids Zone.

*Blank stares, highly-dramatic detailed explanations and Twilight Zone Music here*

Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. For more of her writing, go to thehistorychicks.com.