Friday, March 3, 2017

Spring Parent Conference Day

This blog post is part of an ongoing series to capture a Day in the Life of a Teacher, a collective project started by Tina Cardone @crstn85.

In our school, we have two days of parent conferences a year, one in the fall and one in the spring.  I have 10 boys in my advisory this year, so I will have 10 conferences.  In my case, four scheduled for first thing and four scheduled for lunchtime.  One is sick so we’ll do it next week, and one is MIA.  I’m sure they’ll call at some point today or next week to schedule a spot.

The conferences are student led.  We spent the week preparing a script of things to discuss, including what our trimester 2 goals were, what action plan we followed to achieve them, what we learned about ourselves in the process, and what our plans are for next trimester.  I also had the boys do a reflection on some fixed/mixed/growth mindset statements to see where they are in developing a growth mindset and if it had changed since trimester 1.  That should give them plenty of things to discuss.  My role is only to take notes and answer questions, so it is a relatively low-key day for me.

7:20 – Arrive at school.  Because my first conference starts at 7:40, I can have a friendly chat with the receptionist and a Spanish teacher that I see in the lobby.

7:40 – My first conference is here.  It goes smoothly and we identify some action items to continue progress in trimester 3.

8:00 – My second conference is very positive.  This student is new to the school and we agree that he is adjusting well both socially and academically.

8:20 – My third conference also goes well.  The family is very complimentary of the school as a whole and tells me that they are applying for their younger son to join us as well.

8:50 – I catch up with another teacher on some students that she advises and I teach.  We share notes on how to help them best prepare for Algebra 1 next year with her.

9:00 – My fourth conference is surprising.  The young man is a very strong student, but he cries when he talks about his struggles to stay focused when he is trying to do his homework.  I didn’t realize how much it upset him to want to achieve a goal and then be constantly distracted by other things.  I wonder briefly if he needs testing, but I think this is just normal pre-teen development, and he will learn (with my help) to schedule his time and stick to his schedule.

9:20 – I email my principal and headmaster to pass on the compliments from two of the families this morning saying how pleased they are with our whole school community and the way their boys are progressing at our school.  Yay team!

My next conference is at noon, so I’m going to clean my desk, plan lessons, and catch up with my principal on what his goals are for the engineering class he wants me to teach to the sixth graders next year.

9:35 – The dean of students stops by to reassure me about some negative feedback I received from a parent earlier in the week.  She wanted to let me know that the people above me at the school know the quality of my work and value what I am doing, and they are not going to change their minds because of one unhappy and vocal parent.  That is nice to hear.  I know that I am doing a good job, but sometimes criticism can produce doubt.

9:40 – I go to talk to my principal about that engineering class and the parent I just referred to is in his office.  I have no doubt what they are discussing.  I feel awkward talking to his secretary about his schedule for the day and when I can come back, because they can see me through his office window.  Oh well.

9:50 – To cheer myself up, I stop at the school library on the way back to my classroom and pick out a few books to read over spring break.  As I’m leaving, I see a student coming in for her conference who was absent all week.  We agree that she will stop by my room later to pick up what she missed from my class this week.

I schedule a doctor’s appointment because I’m still sick from the thing I caught 2 weeks ago.  The only appointment I can get that won’t involve missing classes is opposite the all-school faculty meeting, so I schedule it and then email the headmaster to see if I can be excused from the meeting.  I hate to ask for that, but what can I do?  I’m sure he will say yes unless there is something at the meeting that I just can’t do at any other time.

Another colleague stops by to debrief on conference issues.  We walk out to my car and bring in my trunk full of math materials that I got from a friend who decided to leave teaching. I’m sad for the loss, because she was a great teacher, but I’m happy for her that she is moving closer to her family and into a job that will be more satisfying for her.  She taught a lot of SPED and ESL kids and then her principal rated her teaching as “below average” because her students had standardized test scores that were below average.  Those are the types of things that I never understood about public school and that prompted me to switch to private school.

11:20 – I saw a parent yesterday whose son was in my advisory last year.  I jokingly asked if they would schedule a conference with me for today because their conferences are so fun and easy.  They stop by with their son and their daughter and we have a 5-minute recap of both children’s conferences.  They are outstanding students and I taught both kids last year and this year.  It is fun and we laugh a lot.

11:30 – Lunch is ready. The parent guild is treating us to box lunches from Jason’s Deli to thank us for our time on parent conference day. I still have so much planning to do that I decide to eat at my desk and keep working.

11:55 – I have enough done for next week for sixth grade, but I still don’t have a plan for seventh.  Also, I need to write a practice quiz answer key to post today for sixth grade and a test review to email out today for seventh grade.  But, my next four conferences start in 5 minutes, so that will have to wait.

12:00 – The next four conferences are a blur.  My students are great and they all go smoothly.

1:40 – We had a lot to talk about in the last conference, so we ran over significantly.  I’m going to forego meeting with my principal to talk about next year’s curriculum and finish getting ready for next week.  I need to be at Rice in just under an hour to take the final exam for my graduate course that I missed last week because I was sick.

2:10 – I’ve got things ready for Monday, so I head over to the university to finish my course work.

2:30 – I take an hour long exam on content and instructional methods.  It’s nice to think about something that is more simple than interpersonal relationships for a while.

3:30 – I’m done with the exam, and I spend some time chatting with the professors there about math methods.  I’ve been taking courses with them to continue to improve my teaching techniques and they have a lot of great suggestions.  We also talk about the curriculum for the summer camp that I will be teaching for them in June.

5:00 – It’s time for my friends to head home, so I leave and go to have dinner with my friend who is leaving teaching and moving to Phoenix next week.  She has a few more classroom supplies for me in her trunk.  It’s great to see her, but sad that she is leaving.  It’s been an emotional day.

7:30 – I head home so that I can get some sleep to get over this virus.  I have a lot of work to do, but it will have to wait for tomorrow.

Reflection questions:

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

I’m really glad that I asked my student from last year to stop in and visit.  It was a joking request, but obviously it was received well because they actually stopped by, and I know that the few minutes we spent together deepened my relationship with both students and with their parents.

In the less than ideal category, during my afternoon conferences, I was distracted by worrying about the meeting that my principal had with the parents who are unhappy with me.  While that wasn’t a decision, per se, I wish I was better at putting things like that out of my mind so I could be 100% present when I’m in my classroom.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

I told my students this week that I currently embody the meme of the cat hanging from the branch that typically says something like “Friday’s coming!”  I find late February to spring break to be the armpit of the school year.  I’m tired, the kids are tired, but summer is too far away to feel like the light at the end of the tunnel.  When I used to work in engineering, there was less of this feeling because the daily and weekly demands were less.  We usually worked 45-50 hours a week routinely, and only went over 60 where there were unusual deadlines.  Now I work over 60 hours a week routinely.  I know young lawyers and doctors do a lot more than that, and honestly I can’t imagine how they do it.  But perhaps for them it isn’t a long term condition like it is for teachers?  I don’t know.  At any rate, I am very much looking forward to spring break and getting a breather.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

I had a very powerful and productive conversation in my last conference today.  The relationship I have with these parents and their son is wonderful and they are doing all the right things to raise him to be a good person.  I was able to speak to times when he inspires my to be my best self by his example.  I’m so grateful for this family and getting to work with them every day.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

My goal for this year has morphed a bit from implementing a PBL curriculum to just implementing a rich and varied curriculum that is better than the one provided by my textbook.  This curriculum includes inquiry lessons, PBL, hands-on activities, and a lot of concept development that allows students to understand the math they are doing instead of just memorizing steps.  I have been successful in not teaching from the text all year, and we are close enough to the end that I am confident that I will be able to complete this.  I have a lot of ideas for how to include additional PBL lessons in the curriculum next year and it will be something that I continue to tweak for years to come as I see what my students need and as the #MTBoS continues to generate more PBL for me to use.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

I went to an outstanding 2-day conference in Arlington called LLI Southwest at the Oakridge School.  It was a STEM focused conference and my main goal was to learn more about things I can teach in my new engineering elective next year.  I was also able to touch base with three people that I know from a previous school, which was wonderful, and I learned some new tips and tricks for my math classes.  One of my ongoing challenges in how to effectively differentiate instruction in a heterogeneous group.  I am firmly opposed to ability grouping, because I never want to limit a student by telling them how far they can go in math.  So, I need to look for lessons that use what Henri Piccolino calls “The Goldilocks Principle” where there is something that is basic, something that is just right, and something that is too hard for every student.  One of the presenters at LLI talked about a way to use a blended classroom set up to allow students to work through a unit with some required tasks, some optional tasks, some passion-based tasks, and checkpoints along the way.  I think this could be a really good fit for my situation.  I’m planning to give it a trial run with my statistics unit at the end of the year so I can see how to tweak it for next year where I can implement it with one unit per trimester, and more if it is working.

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