Whatever happened to …

… parent/teacher interviews?

Last week’s post about report cards serves as inspiration for this week’s thoughts.

At the Faculty of Education, the parent/teacher interview was made in passing.  “It’s the most important thing that you’ll do to communicate with parents”.  I still remember the advice.  Although exactly “how” this was to be done was never covered.  I never had the experience during practice teaching outings although I did ask the question.  The advice that I got was pretty much worthless “Just talk to the parents and tell them what their kids are doing”.  So, ever naive, I thought that was all that there was to it.  After all, my parents had attended interviews about me and I survived.

On the eve of my first set, I asked my department head who was equally as useless in his advice.  “Just talk to them”.

So, I never was prepared and went in cold turkey.  The school bell would ring every 12 minutes so that you knew that the time was up and the conversation ended.  In subsequent years, we got rid of the bells (we never actually used them to signal class change so the sound was bizarre).  There’s nothing more abrasive than a bell in a building made of blocks without bodies to absorb some of the sound!)

My first experience was actually pretty good.  Nobody came.

I found later that, being on the second floor made us pretty hard to find and that the parents pretty much gravitated to the “important” subjects.  You know, the mathematics, English, history, science …  Plus, as a first year teacher, I was pretty liberal with my marks; I hadn’t failed anyone.  I also didn’t realize that we could send home a note indicating that we’d like to see a particular parent.  And, I was new to a school, teaching a subject that many people didn’t understand and probably all of those things served to keep people away.

But that changed.  I became very aggressive in promoting computer science and data processing and it became more important to parents and students to the point that I had a full timetable of the subject and we were recruiting new teachers to teach the overflow. With a bigger selection of students, I did see some students that had challenges with the subject and I did end up getting to chat with parents.  I used to remark that, as could have been predicted, no two interviews were the same.  If there ever is a case for differentiation, just look at the parents of your students.  I had some productive sessions, a lot of sessions seeking advice for what home computer should be bought, and then there are those damn teachers who have kids.

They are the toughest.

Just when you think you’re the world’s greatest teacher, you get challenged on the types of assessment that you use.  I still smile when I think of a few who challenged my decision to not have so many tests but rather focussed on projects and collaboration.  I even had one university professor visit who thought that everything should be a test or exam so that I could conclusively assign a number to a student and not have a waffely mark based on group work.  Sigh.  Where are they now?  (Actually, I know but that’s as far as I’m prepared to go here)

Into the fray, we had a change in the head of Student Services who had a better idea from the school he transferred from.  Instead of the interviews being done in our classrooms, we were all assigned a table in either the gym or the cafeteria.  While it was easier to schedule, I guess, there was certainly a lack of privacy and you haven’t lived until you’ve spent two hours at a table near the servery.  The smell of grease for that long was just sickening.  Later, as a department head, I was part of a revolt that took us back to classrooms. It just made so much more sense.  And, it was easier to pull out portfolios of student work to go along with the discussions.

Parent/Teacher interviews are still the lifeblood of communication and I do hope that Faculties of Education are not failing their students like mine did.  But, is there a more effective way of communicating with home?

Time and technology has made a process available to all.  Just like assessment should be ongoing, so could the sharing of information with parents.

Electronically, we now have classrooms on Twitter and Facebook, class blogs, school / class websites, teachers and parents sharing emails.  Even here, there’s this little guy that hangs out at our house whose parents get daily communications with the Montessori School (including pictures) to show that learning is not an event; it is continuous.

There is a danger with electronic communications that I don’t think every school realizes and stays on top of.  If you say you have a class website or blog or wiki, it should be kept up to date.  I can tell you of school websites that have teacher websites linked to a host that doesn’t exist any more.  That certainly doesn’t speak well for that teacher or school.  Then, there’s the whole privacy issue.  There are so many angles to that topic.

That’s my story.  How about you?

  • did you ever get good advice before your first parent/teacher interview?  Have you mastered them now?
  • do you use report cards and attachments as communication tools?
  • do you have a class blog/website and use it effectively?  How?
  • does social media fit into your communication plans?  Is it effective?
  • do you worry about the privacy of student/parent information in any of these formats?
  • where would you be without computers to facilitate this?
  • is a physical meeting a thing of the past?  Couldn’t you just do a hangout or Skype instead?

This whole Sunday series of “Whatever happened to …” is available here.  How about taking a walk along memory lane with me?  Got an idea, share it on this padlet.

3 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. I think that parent teacher interviews used to be an “event,” and now, thanks to the online tools that you mentioned here (blogs, email, etc.), plus regular face-to-face and telephone conversations, they don’t need to be. I actually like the more recent move to student-led conferences (or variations of them). It’s great to hear the child speak and be a part of the conversation about goals and next steps. I’ve used this format with students as young as Grade 1, and can even see possibilities for Kindergarten. I’m curious to hear what others think and what they do. Thanks Doug for another thought-provoking post!


    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t remember anyone telling me how to deal with parent teacher conferences. I attended them as a parent for many years before my first one as a teacher though so I thought I knew how to handle them. Typically the parents I need to talk to least are most likely to come. Although I have had a few parents whose children needed some behavior corrected come. Those are the tough ones to have.

    I use social media a lot but not really for communicating with parents. Our parents have access to assignments and grades online and many so seem to track their children’s work closely though our Learning Management System. That doesn’t completely handle communication but I think it helps a lot.


  3. Pingback: Conversations about parent-teacher interviews | SheilaSpeaking

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