We had parent-teacher conferences for both our kids a few weeks ago. I always get nervous about parent-teacher conferences when they come up, which at our school is twice during the school year. I just have this deep-seated fear — and I’m not even sure where it comes from — that the teacher has saved up a mountain of red-inked math, spelling and geography worksheets and is going to finally present to me the incontrovertible evidence that my kid is a disaster, cannot be rehabilitated, and has been invited to leave the school.
“I’ve prepared some materials regarding home-schooling, Mrs. Ferro, which I thought you might want to take with you when you go,” the teacher will say.
But I’ll be ready with a counterpoint.
“Did you know that Albert Einstein didn’t always do that well at school, either,” I’ll ask, “when he was a little boy?”
“Are you saying that your son is an Einstein, Mrs. Ferro?”
And there the dreaded parent-teacher conference of my imagination trails off into an uncomfortable silence, because although I do, in fact, think that both of my little children are surprisingly brilliant at times, I’m not quite willing to put them up in the Einstein category. At least, not out loud, not in front of their teachers.
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That’s never how the conversation goes anyway. Our oldest kid, Belle, is in fifth grade now, and for the past five years the parent-teacher conferences have really been about the same. She’s doing fine in A, B, and C, they’ll tell us, and needs to work harder on X, Y, and Z. In other words, she’s average, she’s normal, she’s got her ups and downs just like everybody else and frankly, the stakes aren’t that high anyway.
It was actually the head of our school who made that point to me one day. I expressed to him my concern that Belle wasn’t getting very good grades last year. “Don’t worry too much about it,” he said. “No one really cares what grades you get in fourth grade.”
That was not exactly what I expected to hear from the head of our school, and I don’t suppose he’s mentioned that to the fourth grade teachers, but I could hardly argue with him; he’s the head of our school.
I think it’s just nerve-wracking for parents who are about to hear their kid’s work picked apart by another adult. It’s hard not to feel worried, and ready to be on the defensive. But I always come away from parent-teacher conferences with, more than anything else, a great sense of relief. That, one, it’s over, and two, my kid is doing okay. Not a superstar, but okay. Year after year their teachers turn out not to be ruthless taskmasters after all.
And our principal’s remark was a good reminder, actually, that the many tests, evaluations, projects, report cards — all of those individual mile markers that go along with being in school — are not as big a deal as it sometimes feels like they are. The stakes do tend to get a little higher as our kids progress from one year to the next but perhaps it’s not wise to make too big a deal about any one particular point in time. It’s the big picture that matters, the long haul.
Keep at it, do your best, I’ve told Belle and Joe, and you’ll be fine. Let’s not let ourselves get too worried about any one bump in the road, I’ve advised them (or perhaps I’m just advising myself), because what’s more important is that you keep on going.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Einstein’s mom told him pretty much the same thing.