I'm home sick today because of a grueling week of parent-teacher conferences that put my body over the edge. Parent-teacher conference weeks are simultaneously my favorite and least favorite weeks of the year. Almost all of my kids' parents show up for conferences, and I get to talk to them about all kinds of things that we don't have time to discuss in the craziness of after-school dismissal. I love connecting with families during these weeks.
But I also dread this time of year, because my days at work become longer and more intense, rushing around to do more assessments on my students, putting together 20 or more student portfolios to share with parents, and working 10 to 12-hour days (conferences go until 8pm two days during the week, and this is on top of teaching normal school days).
But the biggest reason that I get stressed during parent-teacher conferences is because they force me to confront an ongoing battle I have about what's important in teaching kindergarten. What do I share with parents? I have 15 minutes, and what I think my district wants me to share is all the data I have compiled on each student. After all, next to my desk I have a giant "student data" binder, which makes me feel both proud of how productive and organized I am, and ashamed of how I spend so much time making checklists and spreadsheets about my students.
If I used this student data binder at parent-teacher conferences, I could report the following to Mom and Dad about their five-year-old:
- Whether or not they are considered Tier 1, Tier 2, or Tier 3 in reading right now. Tier 2 and 3 means they are "struggling readers," even though they are only five and have just barely learned how to hold a book rightside up.
- What score out of 102 they got on their state-mandated phonological literacy screening test.
- What grade they got on three math unit tests so far this year
- What grade they received on four reading unit tests that I have given them
- How well they are doing on the scale of writing development during their most recent writing assessment, which was an informational non-fiction piece
- The letter that represents the reading level at which they are reading right now - and how far away from the end-of-the-year goal they are on this scale
- How they are scoring on any of the 30+ items that I will be assessing for upcoming report cards
The list could go on, but these are the most basic data items I am required to gather for each of my kindergarten students. And do you know how much of this I share with my students' parents? Almost none.
Instead, I tell parents how much their child loves reading, and what types of books he likes to have read to him. I share what games she likes to play during math time, and how many friends she is making on the playground. I share what stories he tells at morning meeting, and how much he loves to draw Ninja Turtles.
I don't use any numbers or letters to describe their child. I don't use phrases like "Your child is a D on a scale of A to Z." Instead, I try to describe their child using words like "curious," "helpful," "empathetic," and "creative."
If a student is having major struggles in any areas of learning, I will for sure delve into what I am noticing. I will also share the many academic successes that students are having in school. But I do not want parents to walk away from parent-teacher conferences thinking that their child is a number on a scale to me. I want them to realize how much I love their child, and how much their child loves to learn and do and create.
I want parents to know that I know their children for who they are as individuals, not how they measure on a standardized test.