Parents That Made Me a Better Teacher: Mrs. R

Hey hey ATC family!

I hope this email finds you all well and rested from the long weekend. If, like me, it’s taking a bit to get back in the groove of things and get stuff rolling this work week, be encouraged. We still have three days to pick up the energy and check some boxes off that to-do list.

I know that as a teacher, one of the big things on my mind at this point in the school year was Parent-Teacher conferences. As a teacher who was young, marched to her own curriculum drum, taught both grade-level and pre-AP courses, and graded very strictly, I always had high parent turnout. Sometimes it felt like I was visited by most of the parents I didn’t want to see and none of the parents I felt I needed to see, but in the end the relationships I formed with even the most difficult parents were invaluable and as a parent now myself, I’m grateful to have had that honesty and integrity in approach to parent communication. 

For the next few weeks, I want to share a few brief summaries of parents that helped define my teaching experience by helping me understand my role in new and unique ways. My hope is that no matter how you are feeling going into that halfway point for quarter one, my experiences and reflections allow you to frame all interactions with parents during conferences and in the future in a productive and purposeful light. 

Mrs. R was a mother to a student in my 10th grade pre-AP English class my first year. Her student was a brilliant and hilarious child, a starter on the football team, and a leader in student council.

Around campus, Mrs. R was known as a helicopter parent but really, I think she was an informed parent. She was informed about the systems both inside and outside of the school that would influence her child. She was informed about the non-traditional licensing program I was a part of and the fact that I did not have formal teacher training. She was informed about the pathways that being a star athlete could open up for her sun.

And it was those things she considered when she came into my classroom during my first ever parent conferences, told me I was completely out of line for giving her child a B- in my class so far, that my grading system was inconsistent and unreasonable, and that I didn’t have an understanding of the other important commitment in students lives. She called me out on being young and ignorant of my role and on being an outsider to the community.

Those words hurt. They enraged me. They made me feel vulnerable and defensive.

After taking time to pause and sit with those words for a bit, I realized some of them were true. While I do not think I was out of line for daring to give my student a B-, my grading system was inconsistent and poorly communicated.

I cared deeply about the success of my students both in my classroom and in their community but I wasn’t setting them up for success for either one. I was moved to ask myself some critical questions:

  • What systems could I put in place to help students better manage pacing themselves in their work?
  • How could I communicate to parents why the work load I was proposing was both rigorous and fair?
  • What trends was I missing in my classroom that could show me loopholes in my grading system?
  • How could I show to students and parents that I cared about them holistically? 

My conversation with Mrs. R inspired me to buckle down on my planning and start each week with a student-facing agenda of tasks and deadlines. Kids knew Monday what was due Friday, and we had built in days for make up work. It also influenced me to utilize the resource of the copy center in our district office to make class sets of readings to send home on days I knew there were student events. I made a commitment to attending at least two student events a month, and I kept a teacher notebook with completed exemplars of all assignments given to students so that when parents asked questions I could show them where exactly their student lost points on their grade.

The conversation with Mrs. R made me more intentional in my planning, grading, and organization. When I sent home parent communication, I would call her to follow up and make sure it was clear. She volunteered to help in my classroom with student make up work days a few times. By the end of the year, she and I had a great relationship. By the start of year two, she was recommending other parents to register their kids in my class. By the end of my third year, when her son was graduating, I was honored with an invite and the opportunity to write a recommendation letter.

Mrs. R taught me that the “over-involved” parent often does so because they know how many parents want to be there and cannot. When they demanded something of me, it was for their child and all the other children they knew and cared about. When they gave me a criticism it came from a real and valid experience that it was my task to understand, and that inviting them in cost me nothing and but a little humility.

I hope that my daughter’s teachers will have that same outlook in the future, because I may or may not be helicoptering already. 🙂

But I also hope they invite me in to be a part, because like Mrs. R I am willing to donate, chaperone, petition, and fund raise to support the education of my girls and their peers in any way a can. A teacher that can show me their intention and dedication is a teacher I can work with toward impact and I hope that is the teacher you can live into for your student families. 

With full appreciation for you,