Slice of Life, Chapter 19

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

This week, it’s all about the students.

This is our spring stretch of parent-teacher conferences and along with getting a glimpse inside families, the meetings with families gives my team of teachers an opportunity to come together for an extended period of time to talk deeply about how all of our kids are doing in school. (Note: I am the writing instructor on a group of four — with other three teachers dealing with science, social studies and math, and then we all teach literature to our homerooms.) We talk about the students all the time, of course — before school, at lunch, after school — but not in so quite an organized and systematic way.

Yesterday, our team meeting became a three-hour marathon session and although I was tired from lack of sleep and still feeling sick, it was just so interesting to go in-depth on various students whose work and behavior and actions differ so greatly depending on the setting, the personalities around them and the content areas. A student who shines in writing may be struggling mightily in social studies. The hands-on elements of science might play right into a strength of someone who isn’t keeping up the district-mandated accelerated pace of math instruction this year (actually, almost every student is being “left in the dust,” as our math teacher tells it, and he is not even near the place in the curriculum where the district has told him he needs to be at this point in time). You come to realize how often skewed your view of a person can be when you only see them from one angle. As teachers, we need to remind ourselves to step back and see the whole child at all times.

There are times when my team and I use Google Docs for collaborative notes around students prior to conferences, although we did not do that for this spring session. (I can’t resist the opportunity to pull more people into the Web 2.0 Revolution). The writing on Google has been very helpful for us, I think, since parents choose to meet with just one of the four of us, and our job is to represent the rest of the team. Most parents would just like to meet the math teacher but we cap the limit of sessions that any one of us can have, so they are placed with the rest of us. They must wonder how the writing teacher is going to explain the math curriculum, but I actually have a pretty good handle on what is going on in the math class. I talk to my students all the time.

My meetings with parents yesterday went fine and the conversations were meaningful and instructive for both sides. As it turns out, the one meeting I was looking forward to about a very bright and creative student who seems to be putting no effort into the work unless it completely is of interest — oh, but he has put up dozens of home movies on YouTube and he was part of my claymation movie camp last year — was a no-go as mom was a no-show. That was frustrating.

We have more conferences today, and then, tomorrow, we finish things up. By then, my brain will be suitably numb with comments, suggestions and ideas on how we can best help all of our students to succeed.

Peace (in partnerships with parents),

  1. Hey, I’ve been up for hours and still I see you already here. I’m glad to hear about your work with other teachers and how you are using your opportunities to push more web 2.0 tools. How do they feel about themselves as writers? That would really support the work you do as well. Any one might even get interested in the writing project?
    Anyway, I’m off…here’s my post!

  2. It is interesting to read about your conferences. As a parent of three, who attended many teacher conferences as my children were in the education system, I always appreciated the opportunity to hear what the teacher had to say about how my children were doing in school. Meeting with the teachers and discussing their education was more valuable than a report card. I always appreciated becoming aware of the personalities of the teachers (it was easy to tell which ones really loved teaching children) and being able to understand what was happening for my children from the teachers point of view. You have an important job Kevin and it sounds like you are a great teacher.

  3. Wow, I like this teacher conference/parent conference system! We don’t, of course, do parent conferences in either of my programs (teaching adults, and all, that would be a little weird!), but I love the idea of the teachers coming together to talk about the students. At my day job, the Basic Education, Pre-GED and GED teachers swap students for math class … but I don’t think they make enough time to meet and talk about their students. Need to work on that.

  4. Sounds like you have an awesome school (minus the pacing plan in math) and a terrific procedure for making sure that nobody falls through the cracks. I see all my students for every subject. I think in some ways that short changes them. I know there are teachers far more enthusiastic about some of the science units than I am. On the other hand, it’s nice to know the whole child.

  5. Your school sounds interesting and like a good place to work. I love that the team members can talk about students across the curriculum, even if the individual teacher doesn’t teach that subject.

  6. Love the idea of using the web docs. Can’t say I knew many teachers that would have done it, but the idea is a good one. Sounds like you guys have some good approaches with teams. I worked in a couple of middle schools with the team concept, but it was a shallow version of the concept at best. Too many older teachers too set in their ways.

  7. I so believe in collaboration to talk about kids. The more perspectives from teachers about a student the better. Many times colleagues have offered positive feedback or noticed something special about a student that I totally missed. When I was on a smaller team (4 teachers) we dedicated 2 meetings a month to talk about kids across our grade level, often using the support from one another to better serve our students. Now with a larger team, scheduling can be problematic at times. Using Google docs could be a great answer. Thanks for the suggestion.

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