“Your child is a genius,” she said. “I’ve never met anyone like him. He’s so smart and funny and creative and sensitive. He’s as kind as the day is long. What a gift! Well, you know what they say; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
I blush humbly and murmur a gratious “thank you.” “He is a special kid,” I say with a sense of total fulfillment, knowing that my child is accepted, admired and adored for whom he is.
Why is it that each and every one of us expects our parent/teacher conferences to go according to the above script? And they never do. Yet somehow this dichotomy between what we want to happen and the reality of the situation still manages to depress, demoralize and dishearten us to a point of abject despair. I’ve spoken to so many parents this week about post parent/teacher conference despondency that I’m petitioning the American Psychiatric Association to add it to the DSM-5 which is due out in May of 2013.
As an actor, I liken parent/teacher conferences to those much anticipated, highly regarded theatre reviews we all dread and crave simultaneously. Most actors I know refuse to read them at all. Reason being, (and I am borrowing a line from the very obscure rockers, The Bacon Brothers), “When they’re bad, they’re really bad. And when they’re good, they’re not good enough.” You walk into those conferences expecting a rave, only to be panned and find out you’re shutting down the show well before your scheduled closing date.
I have to confess that this year’s conferences were the best ever for me. But I think that has to do with managing expectations more than anything else. These types of conferences are a way for astute, observant teachers to give parents feedback about their child’s study skills, classroom habits, and behavior. As parents, we can learn a lot from them. But rule number one is to remember that they are always going to offer suggestions for improvement. After all, nobody’s perfect, not even your child. While we parents may understand this intellectually, it stills feels icky to have someone outside the clan verbalize the myriad of faults exhibited by our little snuggle bunnies. (Kind of like how it’s okay for me to make fun of my family of origin, but you’d better seek protection if you’re planning on making them the butt of your own humor.)
Parents need to remember that it’s a teacher’s job to make our kids better, smarter, more functional people. This does not happen by positive feedback alone. Simple comments like, “Your child doesn’t do his best work,” or “Your daughter talks too much in class,” or “Your son blurts out the answers and inhibits the other children,” are all jam-packed with learning potential if we allow them to be. Even the dreaded, “Your child needs an assessment,” remark that sends even the most even-keeled parents into a frenzy, can be a call to action that generates tremendous positive results.
The truth is, we want our kids to be perfect. So when well meaning teachers use brutal honesty to tell us about our kids, it’s like holding up a mirror that highlights our own tragically flawed reflections. We get angry, oversensitive and defensive.
So here’s my suggestion du jour when you’re facing your next parent/teacher conference: take a breath, really listen, and then put on your big girl panties and try to see how you might help your child learn whatever lesson’s being presented. After all, it wont be the first time your child is faced with a critical assessment of his or her skills and capabilities. And I guarantee, it wont be the last.