I had a conference with the parents of one of my students today. Sometimes these conferences frustrate me; this was one of those times.
The student tries hard and does almost all assignments, and even does ok on quizzes. On tests, however, this student bombs. Miserably. It's not even close.
The parents asked what they should do, what they could do, to ensure the student performs better. I know it's a natural question for a parent to ask, but it's a weird question for a teacher to be asked.
If I knew how to get the child to do better, I'd already be doing it and the child would be getting an A.
That's not to say that there's nothing else I can do, far from it. Whenever students have difficulty learning something I take different tacks to see if an alternate method works. But I don't know beforehand if any given method will work on any given student or group of students. Again, if I knew that, I'd already be using the "model approach" and I'd be superteacher and my students would be every teacher's dream.
So I had to give some canned answers to the parents, slightly modified for their child's specific weaknesses. Honestly, if I had the silver bullet I'd already have used it.
Then came the, well--I'm not sure what to call it. These parents weren't so angry as to attack, but they were reaching for anything they could their hands on to get me to change their child's grade. "My child says that you test stuff that you don't cover in class." That isn't accurate. "Well, a lot of teachers at this school do." I think to myself, your child's had six, maybe as many as seven teachers at this school, well under 10%; you can't know what "a lot" of teachers do. "My child does all the homework. In my book that means at least a D." Grades have to reflect a level of mastery of the material covered, which is why 80% of a student's grade comes from tests and weekly quizzes. "I wasn't very good at math, either." Please don't tell your student that; in their mind it excuses their poor grade. And again, "Are you sure you're testing the material you're covering in class?" Here's the review packet I'm handing out tomorrow and here's next week's test; note the similarity in the tasks required on the two documents. "My child has test anxiety." To myself I think, I sure hope you're not feeding that.
I recommended that they ensure their child starts reviewing the chapter today in preparation for next week's test, not wait until the night before. I said that their child needed to take some responsibility for learning by asking questions during class about unfamiliar material in the assignments. I recommended more frequent contact between us adults so they can monitor their child's progress. They decided to increase the outside tutoring they're getting for their student to several hours a week, up from one hour. And of course, I'm always available before school and sometimes am available after school.
The meeting didn't end poorly, and it wasn't what I would consider contentious. But I felt like I was on the defensive the whole time because I couldn't give them what they wanted, which was some single idea that would cause their child to do well on tests.
I'm soliciting comments here. What was wrong with this conference? How could I have conducted it better? Or am I totally off base here, and it went seemingly fine?