Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Here are excerpts of my students' (really quite excellent) stories, which we are getting ready for publication this week.

Upon seeing his parents dance at their wedding: "I cried but it was ok because it was tears of goe" [joy].

"When I entered the roller rink I was dumbfounded by all the pepple. I put on my skates it took A long time! I got through it."

"a minute later my brother went in the room. where I was woching tv. and he had his skeleton costume on! I immediately pulled my [toy] gun and it went dam! dam! I was very startled me." (oh, the constant confusion between "b" and "d"!) "The next day I wasent my self. I could fell my heart beding fast. and I was shivering I could see scary people in my mind."

A swimming story:
"Then the water got even colder then before It was so cold I felt like I will tern into a ice cube. Then we went out of the pool I said what a relief."

Upon receiving a scooter for his birthday:
"This is so new! i sied to myself and my stomik jumped because it is excited."

In a haunted house:
"My heart was feeling like a durm! [drum] My stomach was jumping off the walls to get away. My eye was wide like an animal! My arm was wiggling like a cats tail!"

I've never had such good description in my kids' stories, and let me tell you, these are not the best writers I've ever taught, so I am left to conclude I've done a good job of teaching something. Man, they look like they aren't listening to a thing you say, but once in a while, they learn something!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Family Conferences

One of the cool parts of my job is doing family conferences.

Am I glad when I finish the last one? Yes.

Do I think, "Whew, don't have to do that again until April!"? Yes.

Family conferences are a lot of work. They take energy, focus, schmoozing skills, and tact. Sometimes, things you never anticipated arise, and they can push you off-balance. Some families make you nervous, make you wonder, "What kinds of things is she going to complain about this time? What could I have done wrong?"

But, all in all, I have a lot of fun at conferences. This year, even though I don't enjoy their children as much as I have previous classes, I really enjoyed all of the family members I met. I was impressed by their familiarity with their children's abilities, interest in the curriculum, and desire to understand how I teach. Today, I had a parent come back for the second meeting in two weeks, just because she didn't really understand her notes on solving math problems the "new" way when she got home. She wanted an extra math class with me so she could help her son with his homework. What could be better?

I have also figured out, after all these years, how to say a lot of things to families. I know how to tell you that your child has a lot of catching up to do in reading, or has frequent temper tantrums. I know how to explain why I don't teach your child to borrow or carry in math, and I can almost always get you on my side in that battle. I know how to break the news that your child is so very wiggly that he can't really get his work done, and I know how to say that I think we might want to have your child evaluated for special education services. I even know how to give you suggestions for disciplining your child, or for stepping out of the regular power struggles you find yourself in at home.

The biggest, best secret I have about family conferences? It's that I can nearly always connect with a family member if I let you know that we share a fondness for your child. I always know what positive things I'm going to say, the strengths your child has revealed in these first two months of school, the promise I see. I probably have a cute, funny, or smart story to tell you, and I convey as much warmth as I can in those stories. I spend a good part of the conference connecting, building bridges, so that you and I are definitely, by the end of our 30 minutes, on the same team. And I always, always, always give you, the family, the benefit of the doubt. I let you know that I know that you want the best for your children, and that you are doing the best you can to get it for them. Because the truth is that in 9 years of doing this, I haven't ever met parents who didn't want the best for their children.

I worried a bit this year that I didn't quite convey the full seriousness of some of my students' academic difficulties. I don't think families left my classroom feeling urgently concerned and, honestly, some of them probably should be. But I don't want to send them home feeling hopeless, or stressed so they will pressure their child too much, or upset at me, the messenger. I felt like my biggest job at this, the first conference of the year, was to build that connection. If we have bad news to talk about more later on, at least we'll have this strong foundation on which to build.