We Need Real Parent-Teacher Conferences

Op-Ed Contest Winner #3

By Emma Pilkington

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Students are present at school about seven hours a day, five days a week, and attend the same classes with exactly the same teachers. These teachers spend time with their students not only in class, but also during after school hours and individual appointments. When it comes to semester grades, or the quarter anecdotals, the teachers should have a lot to say. So why is it that these anecdotals are not focused on individual students, but written generically, each stating the course outline and grade breakdown? More importantly, why do students read these anecdotals not beside the teacher who wrote them, but by their advisor, who would have no answers to any questions the student has when reading them?

When I was in middle school we had, similar to Beacon, advisors who supported us and stayed with us throughout all three years. Each advisory would be a group of around nine students and one teacher, and every Friday we would all meet. The meetings were almost identical to the ones that take place in Beacon advisories – playing games, teaching life lessons, or taking surveys regarding school. The advisor got to know us really well, but at the same time, she was just our advisor and didn’t know any of us academically.

When it came around to parent-teacher conferences, our advisors, because they didn’t know us on an academic level, wouldn’t meet with us. Instead, we had individual appointments with our parents and each of our teachers. In these meetings, I was provided with the opportunity to ask my teachers how I could improve in their classes. I could also ask more specific questions, such as how I could boost my participation grade. I left each meeting feeling satisfied, knowing exactly what I had to get done to develop as a student in each class.

But at Beacon, it’s extremely different. We meet with our advisor, the teacher who has only gotten to know us through hour-long Friday sessions, for parent-teacher conferences. The meeting is ten minutes, and it starts off with the advisor handing us the anecdotals written by each of our teachers, which are often rushed and have the same advice copied for all students because the teachers have so many anecdotals to get through. And if we have a question about the anecdotal, advisors have no answers. How are they supposed to know how to study for math tests better if they have never taught math? It’s an extremely pointless meeting where we are better off being handed the anecdotals and walking out of the room right after.

By contrast, my middle school was a smaller school with more money to spend. Having ten minute meetings with each of our teachers at Beacon simply does not seem realistic, feasible, or logical. But consider this: each teacher could provide time slots of five minutes for each of their students for meetings which would take place over the course of three days from after school into the evening. The student could attend the meeting with their parents, where the teacher would give them the anecdotal and their grade. The student would read it over with a parent or guardian, and then a conversation would take place. Because the student would be with the actual teacher, and not the advisor, he could ask any and all questions that come to mind throughout the meeting. It’s productive and time sensitive because having a meeting with an advisor who knows nothing about Math or English will not help with the student’s concerns. Yes, it would require spending more time on parent-teacher conferences, and would be more difficult for the parents who take time out of work to attend. But students should learn how to address their teachers directly with their concerns, and teachers should be able to respond. These conferences would provide the proper environment for teacher and student collaboration, and for the parents to get on the same page, too.

Colette Drinkard, a student who attended middle school at Berkeley Carroll with me, states that “individual meetings are extremely beneficial because I’m able to have an open dialogue with my teachers about places I’m succeeding and places I’m struggling. Only so much can get across in an anecdotal.” That is why it is extremely necessary to have individual parent-teacher conferences with our actual teachers, instead of with our advisor.