Report Cards and Teacher Conferences by Margaret Hart
About two weeks ago my first-grade son came home with the standard parent-teacher conference report form. I glanced it over looking for the section where I write down the day and time I’d like to meet with his teacher to discuss his progress. This time, however, his teacher had checked off a box that read: “no conference necessary at this time.” My knee-jerk reaction was something like a deer in headlights. I was a little stunned. I had never noticed before that “no conference” was an option! There was no personal note, nothing annotated. Just a check mark in a box that clearly stated his teacher felt no conference was necessary at this time.
I thought about it for a while, and then I called a friend to get her reaction. “That’s great,” she said. “It means he’s doing really well.” Well, yes. I knew that. His fall report card was fantastic and had exceeded our expectations. My husband and I are very proud. But we also know that he has areas where he needs improvement. A few days after the conference report form came home, his spring report card arrived. Number 4 is the best, and he scored all 4s—up in three categories from a 3 in the beginning of the year. Despite my happiness at this improvement, my little voice was saying there should still be a conference with his teacher to discuss his progress. I asked my husband if he thought I should request one, as this was an option on the form. He said no. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed.
Fortunately, I ran into his teacher the very next day at school. I smiled, and asked her, “There are no areas where he needs improvement?” She smiled back. And told me that there were eight kids in his class that also did not require conferences. Half in his reading group. All bright kids, and mostly girls. So now I was an even prouder mom: I know these girls well, and they are mature and “serious” about their school work. But I still felt I needed to talk to his teacher about how he was doing. What is he doing? What are his strengths? Weaknesses? There must be some areas of my son’s development where he could do better?
My desire to know where he can improve probably comes not only from my competitive nature, but also from my curiosity to see what lies ahead. To want to learn more and to do better. But I think it also comes from my professional life. Having been the recipient of many a performance review, as well as having conducted many reviews for staff reporting to me, I know the Golden Rule: there’s always room for improvement.
So this past week, just after school dismissal, I stopped by his class and had an impromptu chat with his teacher. She couldn’t have been more delightful. She gave me all the “dirt” I was looking for, and knew about already. Yes, my son has a tendency toward socializing rather than knuckling down of his own accord, and, for example, writing more than the two sentences his teacher asked for. He’d rather go to recess, than sit down and do school work. But he does good work. Typical of boys his age. Nothing to be concerned about. His teacher also acknowledged that when challenged, he can, and does, do more.
More than anything, his teacher confirmed for me that my son was doing very well and just needed to keep up the good work, and stay focused. Staying focused is definitely something that we will continue to reinforce at home, and his teacher will work on at school. He’s an extrovert, who loves to talk and laugh and have a good time. He’s curious and can get distracted by wondering what those around him are up to. He likes to share his enthusiasm with others. But he also has boundaries, and he knows the rules and follows them— most of the time! “He’s well-rounded,” she summarized, just as I was about to leave. I hear that a lot, and for that, I am relieved. I hope this continues throughout his life.
This conversation was the missing “annotation” from the form that I needed. I also needed to “hear it” from her in person. I needed to see her facial expressions, listen to her tone of voice, and assess her demeanor and her delivery of the information. All these things helped me complete the picture of my son’s performance that the conference report form did not.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining. I truly appreciate that we did not need a conference at this time. And I’m grateful for my son’s teacher, who is dedicated, at conference time, to spending her time with those parents of children with the greatest need. But I think conference report forms need to provide a section where teachers are encouraged to make comments. Parents of kids who are performing at or above the required level also need feedback. And, there’s always room for improvement.