Recently my school hosted the dreaded “parent-teacher conferences”. These conferences have been pretty much the same during my 25 years in the profession, and I suspect since Moses was in Hebrew school. The teachers fear being blamed by the parents while the parents fear being blamed by the teachers. If this scenario is not played out, its cousin is the theme. In the alternate scenario, the teacher and the parent agree on the apparent greatness of the child in question, and everyone goes away vaguely satisfied.
The recent conferences featured one change. For one reason or another, the conferences were held in individual rooms which is more common at the elementary level. This change made all the differnce in the world.
The first night of conferences I did very little talking. The more private atmosphere seem to lead parents to speaking about themselves. They spoke about their hopes, dreams, and failures. They spoke of the pain in their lives caused by substance abuse, divorce, or a myriad of other problems. In doing this I thought they were trying to explain their children to me, and in fact, the information was very helpful. There was a deeper purpose to what I was hearing though.
These people wanted someone to listen. They wanted someone to know they were trying and they wanted to acknowledge that they were not always successful. I have heard it said, and I agree, that the greatest compliment you can pay to someone is to actually listen to what they have to say. These people wanted someone, anyone, to pay them such a compliment.
It is easy to become cynical in the teaching game. We are fond of saying ‘I did not see the ones I needed to see’ after conferences. I think this time though, perhaps, maybe, I did listen to the ones I needed to listen to.