Monday, December 03, 2007

Teacher Conferences

Both of our teacher conferences are tomorrow and I am at the extremes.

Really, I have nothing to say to E's teacher except "We love you." She is totally tuned in to E. She differentiates beautifully (example: she had the kids drawing items for addition problems, but when it was obvious after three problems that E had this down, she had E write out how she came to her solutions, which showed that E is already, I'm not so down with the math terminology, but E adds 11 and 4 by taking 1 away from 11 to get 10, and then adding the 1 and 4 to get 15, which may not seem that exciting and important, but take my word for it, it is--basically it means she is thinking conceptually, not just counting units...anyway, that's just one example, but this teacher does it all the time: lets E take the next step, or as many steps as she wants to take). She also has clearly been tracking E's social movements, just as we have, and we are all pleased that E is finally engaging in a real way with the girls in her class. So, basically, there is no reason to even have this conference, except that it's always nice to hear someone praise your kid.

M's conference is another story. Basically I am in a suppressed rage about her school. This school has been the locus of significant community conflict over the last year, and now that we are actually in the school, I am just hornswoggled by the idea that anyone could defend it, let alone claim that it is a wonderful, kid-focused place. My anger begins with cluster placement: I try to support school decisions and believe that school staff are operating on knowledge I may not be privy to. I'm totally down with separating old cliques, but I have just not been able to come up with any justification for putting every single one of M's friends in one cluster, and her in another. She's surmounting this obstacle, but surmounting is not the best way to start off your middle school career, and it's definitely been a lot harder than it needed to be.

Then there's the sick teacher. M's favorite teacher, whom she has for homeroom, English, and science (we won't go into the ridiculous organization of the sixth grade clusters), has been out for weeks with pneumonia. There has been no communication from the school--when I emailed the principal, I got a two-line non-informative response which promised we'd hear as soon as there was news, and apparently the fact that the teacher is still out is not news. The substitute sucks. Last week the substitute was sick and the substitute for the substitute was great--had them draw cells as cities to understand the functions of the different parts of the cell--but presumably one doesn't get a substitute for a substitute forever.

Which brings me to my main complaint, and the one that I think I am going to bring up as carefully as possible in the conference--because the big issue here is that I can't go nuts on them, as I'd like to, because M is in the school, it's a very vindictive place, and the most important thing I need to do as a parent is help her have the easiest (not academically, but emotionally), most successful middle school experience she can. Anyway, she is bored. A lot of the work is actually fine, but she finishes it before the other kids do, and then she just reads. And if M is bored of reading, you know there is not enough happening in those classrooms. And the thing is: it would be so easy. She finishes the worksheet on pre-modern societies? Give her Clan of the Cave Bear and tell her to write a book report! Have her do research on the internet! Give her an art project! She WANTS to learn and to work. She's super-independent and responsible. If you can't meet the needs of that kind of kid, you really shouldn't be teaching (don't get me started on that one, and definitely don't get me started on the worst teacher, who is a psycho sadist from hell).

I'm painting an overly-bleak picture here. I'd say M's experience is generally on the OK-fine spectrum, and there have been projects she loved, classes she likes pretty much every day, and lots of new friends. But going into this conference is testing my capacity to be reasonable, and I hope I can achieve my best self, for her sake.


Jenny Davidson said...

Good luck - sounds trying...

Libby said...

Ugh. I feel your pain. Honestly, with the school experiences we are having this year, I am this close to pulling both kids out and letting them just hang out at home. They'd learn more and be happier. The only reason we don't do it for Mariah is that she's only six months from graduating, and Nick hasn't asked. Sigh.