Before I left my SAs at the end of the short practicum, one of them suggested that I attend the upcoming PTC: Parent-Teacher Conference.
It’ll be a good experience for you.
Said my SA oh-so-wisely. And he was right (for the umpteenth time in a row).
Seriously, he’s on a roll in his role as a role model. See what I did there?
The night started off with me taking the bus from university to my practicum school. Thankfully a fellow teacher candidate was with me and knew the area well so we got off at the right stop. Once inside the gymnasium I was surprised; my idea of a handful of parents talking with a handful of teachers standing around were completely swept away. Mind you, I haven’t been to a parent-teacher conference (not even my own) since grade 7, so that would give me more than a decade away from the PTC scene.
Contrary to my chaotic mental image, in the gymnasium were rows and rows of tables, each with a teacher and his/her nametag set up beside so that parents could find their children’s teachers easily. There were plenty of students helping out in many ways too: announcing when parents’ sessions were up (parents made appointments ahead of time which were roughly 7 minutes long per teacher), providing teachers with water and cookies (such service!), monitoring water and coffee stations, checking appointments and giving directions where needed. I think the fact that there were students willing to volunteer extra hours simply spoke to the warm community at my school; they were all attentive and willing to smile at perfect strangers.
I spent half the time with my business SA and the other half with my English SA. One of the things I noticed was the different approaches my teachers took when discussing their students with the students’ parents. My business SA touched on marks briefly but he also focused a lot on qualitative observations such as the student’s level of interaction with the class, social skills and ability to stay on task. My English SA on the other hand began most of her meetings with the student’s grade and what the student could do to fix or improve certain assignments. Part of her discussion would inevitably include some qualitative assessment but numbers figured much more predominantly in her discussions than in my business SA’s. Also of interest was that all the conversations, regardless of the subject, centred on the student; despite the parent-teacher label on the conference, the subject was really all about the student.
Now the major explanation for the difference in focuses between my business SA’s conversations and my English SA’s discussions is simply because business courses are electives while English is an academic mainstay. Both quantitative and qualitative assessment are important indicators of a student’s progress and achievement, of course, but the academic course had a lot more quantitative assessment going on because that is what is required for students to move ahead in school. After watching both my SAs speak to a number of parents I am slightly nervous myself: a teacher’s job is, once again, so much more than I really anticipate. At a parent-teacher conference the teacher becomes something other than “teacher;” the teacher becomes part of customer service or a help desk, a pseudo-counselor, a mediator, an advisor and a manager of his or her students; someone who can reflect on one student out of a couple hundred and deliver feedback to parents on the spot while suggesting improvements and remarking on good behaviour. Frankly I think being a teacher has quite a lot of hats, but from observing my SAs as well as the other teachers I have gotten to know, it’s all part of the job.
And what a job. There was free pizza at the end! The overall experience was great because it exposed me to another side of teaching we haven’t discussed much in class: the parent-teacher interaction. Understanding that we, as teachers, are one part of a village trying to raise children, and that we are working alongside the parents to hold these students up is a very encouraging image. After tonight I am definitely a little nervous about this part of the job, but I am also definitely looking forward to meeting the parents of my future students.