Conferences (or ‘blind dates with parents’)


I’m sitting at a table in the middle of a gymnasium, with my laptop and calendar by my side. I have a bowl (a clever, crafty thing made out of an old record) with hand sanitizers, kleenex, and my cell phone in front of me. I’m trying to not peer nervously from side to side of the room in order to see if any of my students’ parents are approaching.

Not that I’m really expecting trouble. Even the ones who might not see eye to eye with me are generally polite and respectful. It’s simply stressful to be pinned out here, in plain sight, unable to run or to control the situation. I am at their mercy. They sit down when they want, they get up and leave when they are finished. I watch them circling, circling, and I feel a certain sympathy with the wildebeest on nature programs when the lions are approaching. You see them coming but there’s really no where to go.

I’m a parent and I have spent many hours, some painful and some pleasant, sitting across the table from teachers. I’ve spent many more hours sitting across from parents. I’m glad, yes, of course I am, that our parents are involved, that they care, that they come to conferences. It’s just that I hate the helpless, forced interaction. Imagine a cocktail party where you can’t move around. You have to stay in one corner and whoever wants a piece of your company is allowed to take it. Now add into that picture another person, one who supervises you (read “principal”) who is keeping an eye on you to be sure you 1. don’t move away, 2. keep smiling and being polite, and 3. aren’t blowing these vital interactions.

Most of them are very nice. A few of them, memorably, are crazy. The mom who breaks down in tears and cries because we ‘didn’t choose her to be a chaperone for the Disneyworld trip, after all she’s done for the department! Ever since her husband left she’s dreamed of the opportunity to take 1 trip, just 1 trip, with her son, and she knew for sure THIS was it, THIS was the dream, THIS was happening for a reason, and now, now, now, we’ve destroyed it all, and it just isn’t FAIR’ Or the dad who opened the festivities by telling me “we were involved in five criminal cases with our daughter last year.” When I inarticulately muttered something like “that’s too bad,” he responded “Oh, they aren’t her fault. It’s a case of ‘wrong place, wrong time.’,” I seriously made a commitment to explore other avenues of employment. I mean, come on. If a 15-year-old manages to be in the ‘wrong place, wrong time’ five times during a school year, involving 5 criminal charges………I think you see where I’m going. And this parent is going to be concerned and helpful about his daughter’s refusal to consistently keep a sharpened pencil in her choir folder? Please.

You know what, though? It’s spring break in about 2 hours. That’s pretty cool, really. And there are much worse things to be doing, I’m sure. Those pictures of the trash villages in Third World countries come to mind. But darn it, it’s Thursday night, I’m tired, and I’m just crabby, even if it’s for no good reason! Heard any good jokes, anyone?