Monday, October 29, 2018

Emails From Parents Requesting Conferences

We've had a couple of "interim" grading periods at school, and some of my students aren't doing as well as perhaps their parents would like.  Since that obviously won't do, I'm starting to get emails from parents who want to meet with me to "see what we can do" about a student's grade.

Our district uses an online student information system, and parents can access details of student grades online at any time.  I update those grades a couple times a week, so information there is never more than a couple days old.  Parents can see each grade on each assignment, test, or quiz; additionally, they can see a summary of how their student is doing overall on assignments, on tests, and on quizzes.

When parents tell me they want to meet, I usually start my reply with, "Thank you for contacting me.  I'd be happy to meet with you.  Specifically, what outcomes would you like from such a meeting?"  Then I share with them the very information they could get online about their student's grade--for example, "As you can see (in our online grading program), your student has turned in x% of homework and earns mediocre scores on tests and quizzes"--and then fill them in on all the opportunities for assistance, both inside and outside of class, that are available to their student.

Usually I don't hear back from them after that.  Why is that?  Is it because my email provided them with all the information they wanted from their proposed meeting?  If they wanted information, why not ask for it instead of asking for a meeting?  Or is there some other reason?

Not all the time, but sometimes I honestly think some parents ask for a meeting to try either to intimidate or to sweet-talk a teacher.  I really do, I've seen both too many times.  Clearly, neither of those will work very well on me!  I've been doing this too long, I have my stock answers down pat--say something silly, and chances are I've got a well thought out, professional, logical, pedagogically sound reply (unless I hear a new one, and it's been awhile since I've heard a new one!).  It's been awhile since I've been threatened with a lawsuit, but the last time it happened, I told the parent that I'd save him a little money and let him know just what his attorney would--the wording of California Education Code Section 49066:
49066. (a) When grades are given for any course of instruction taught in a school district, the grade given to each pupil shall be the grade determined by the teacher of the course and the determination of the pupil's grade by the teacher, in the absence of clerical or mechanical mistake, fraud, bad faith, or incompetency, shall be final.
I never heard back from that parent or his attorney.

Whether in person or via email, when they plead for higher grades, I tell parents that I don't artificially inflate grades. (The words "artificially inflate" are very powerful.)  Grades exist to reflect achievement towards the state-defined academic standards, etc. etc. etc.  When they ask why I don't give test retakes, why I won't accept homework that was due a month ago, why I don't give extra credit projects, why I don't allow students to use their phones in class for any reason, I have answers to those questions, too.

I've been at this job too long to be doing things haphazardly.  I dot my i's and cross my t's.  I know what I'm doing.  I am not the one who needs to change so that students get higher grades, students need to change what they're doing, or not doing, in order to earn higher grades.  If I need to change, it's because my self-reflection tells me I'm not presenting the material in an optimal way, not because a particular student doesn't have a particular grade.

Some, and not just parents, might try this line of attack:  I'm too old-fashioned, times and kids are different nowadays, etc.  I need to be more flexible.  Why is it incumbent on me to be more flexible, when by definition, my flexibility artificially inflates a student's grade to where it no longer reflects a student's actual achievement towards the standards?  Why shouldn't the student be more flexible, perhaps by devoting more time and effort to the subject, including coming in for extra help before or after school?  I am not responsible for an individual student's grades.  The grade is the student's, not mine.  And calling me old-fashioned?  That's just name-calling; besides, I've been called a lot worse!  Additionally, I have a large folder of letters and emails from former students thanking me for teaching them in such a way that they were able to succeed in follow-on classes.

So I don't have a lot of parent conferences.  I keep grades updated online, and I respond to all parent emails to keep them informed.  Sometimes I even send "form letter" emails to all parents just to fill them in on something important, like an upcoming test.  Maybe some parents ask for conferences because that's just their default action--it doesn't occur to them to ask via email for the information they want.  Or maybe they don't even know what to ask, which is why they initially ask for a conference, but no longer need one after I've provided them with more information.

Whatever the reason, I'm getting more requests for conferences lately.  So far I've had only one conference (not including IEPs and all-teacher conferences, of course).  I'm sure more are in the works.


Steve USMA '85 said...

It would have been my reaction to ask for a conference if I felt my child wasn't performing to his/her potential. Your answering email would probably negated the need for the meeting.

On the other hand, I did like the regularly scheduled parent-teacher conferences. You learn things from the child's teacher outside of the actual learning of the material. Things like how they behave in class, who there friends are, suggestions for elective courses, etc. Things that a parent can use to continue to assist their child on the road to a productive life.

Darren said...

Do you have regularly scheduled conferences with high school teachers? That's not been my experience, but I'm sure it happens somewhere.

I hope I didn't leave the wrong impression. It's not that I don't want to have conferences, it's that I don't want to have *unnecessary* conferences. There's a very large difference!

lgm said...

My district has regularly scheduled conferences with high school teachers. Haven't had any honesty at all face to face, so I go thru the Principal, with email record.
Biggest one was the grading policy in a dual enrollment class -- kid earned a 76 first quarter. Two emails later, it was established that the grade was based on a spelling test for the state capitals....and there was no grading policy for the course. Fail on the part of the dual enrollment provider, fail on the part of the Principal. And they had the audacity to express amazement at the number of students who elected not to take the course for college credit. For this I pay enough taxes so each makes well over $40k more than what it takes to live in the area, plus all the sky high retirement. Gross failure. My grandchildren won't be going to public school.

Steve USMA '85 said...

There would be parent teacher conferences scheduled the week of Thanksgiving and another one scheduled in the Spring. There would be a block of time where parents could schedule a conference with your high school teachers but the parent would have to be proactive and schedule it online. The teacher would have to be available if a parent asked but most just used it as planning time as a high percentage of high school parents didn't bother.

My wife and I found it very helpful in that one option was to ask for a joint conference. You could meet with a teacher for 10 minutes and do that times the number of teachers or you could meet all the teachers (subject to availability) in one room for 20 minutes. I found the 20 minute group meeting wonderful to find systemic issues in my child's performance and then get a consensus on how we would address the issue. Key thing was 'we.' My wife and I would be integral to any plan to fix whatever the issue was at the time. I found teachers are more than willing to work together when they realize the parent is at home and will enforce anything the teacher's come up with to solve the issue.

Luckily, most of our child's 'issues' were how to get them to maximize their learning potential and usually not behavioral issue.

Darren said...

That's not a system I'm familiar with, but I like it.