Surviving parent-teacher conferences

Pass me a chocolate bar because I just lived through an hour and a half of parent-teacher conferences and I’m exhausted and I’m not even a teacher. My oldest daughter’s school holds these meetings in the school auditorium, where tables and chairs are set up in rows and you essentially get to speed-date each teacher in a five-minute mini conference over the course of a few hours. You book your spots in advance, but inevitably the whole thing starts running late even before it starts, as some parents overstay their five-minute spots and other parents awkwardly lurk nearby, treading that passive-aggressive line between “Oh, it’s fine, take all the time you need” and “It’s time to move ON, people!”

I am in the latter category, because I am one of those relentlessly on-time or early-to-everything people. I can’t help it. I’ve got anxiety and being late makes me feel anxious so instead I make up for it by being excruciatingly early to everything. Recently a friend sent me a meme about how when something starts at 4pm you arrive at 3.45pm to be there on time, but that people like me arrive at 3.30 to be early to being early. That is 100% me. So I was the parent lurking awkwardly and anxiously watching the clock, caught between concern about being early to our current five-minute booking and late to the next one. The whole thing was so triggering.

Anyway, I was meeting with eight of my daughter’s teachers because eight was the maximum of spots you could book, and even then my kid was disgusted that I wanted to meet ALL of her teachers. This is her first year in high school so OF COURSE I want to meet ALL of her teachers. I am *that* parent. So my daughter had brought a book along with her, perhaps thinking that she’d be able to catch up on some reading in between the little meetings, only to have those hopes dashed by her anxious mother hissing, “Come stand over here! We’re next! We need to stand here casually so those parents know we’re talking to this teacher next, not them!” Cue teenaged eye-roll.

Most of the five-minute conferences went okay. Some of the teachers I didn’t really connect with. There was one who called my kid by the wrong name. Another one was running so behind that our appointment only lasted about 30 seconds, because she was trying to make up time, so it consisted of her saying, “Your daughter is doing fine, and everything is fine, it was nice meeting you.” I get it. It’s a stressful experience for teachers, who have to try to remember who knows how many individual students in a compressed amount of time, and deal with complicated situations which are better handled in actual proper meetings and not five-minute meet-and-greets.

There were some memorable moments, too. Like my daughter’s English teacher, with whom I nerded out over Shakespeare, much to my kid’s embarrassment. And her music teacher who, although my daughter is kind of meh about continuing with music as a subject, took the time to explain how in future, she can take music for NCEA credits without having to perform solos. And her foreign language teacher, who so obviously cares about the wellbeing of her students that *we* were the people going overtime as she was explaining what she’d noticed about my daughter’s friend group and how they support each other in class.

I came home with a full brain and the sense that my daughter has entered a different world, one which is exciting and interesting and full of possibilities. As we drove home I was thinking of my own high school teachers. Some of them I connected with, and some I didn’t. Some of them were incredibly passionate and interested in their students, and others were just killing time until retirement. But on the whole, I am still well aware that the vast majority of the teachers I’ve met throughout my own education and my children’s schooling have been amazing people. Amazing people who deserve respect, applause, and more money than we currently pay them.

And next year, I think I’m going to go to the conferences armed with a handbag full of chocolate bars or perhaps mini bottles of wine to leave behind after each meeting. Because I fell asleep on the sofa at 8pm last night, I was so tired from the event. I can only imagine how tired those teachers were.

Katherine Granich

Editor, Tots to Teens

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