Parent-teacher conferences can’t be avoided, even though there are only so many times you can sit through a recital of the 6th grade curriculum. Since they are the individualized reports on our child’s progress, the face-to-face meetings with the teachers we have heard so much about (!), it is incumbent on us to attend.
When I saw the notice for sign-up sheets (that alone is a drama as parents vie for their desire spots, wrestling 3-ring binders to the floor with papers spilling in all directions, in order to write their names in first and avoid a 20 minute wait between appointments) this year, I was reminded of a parent-teacher evening a few years ago.
All the teachers smiled and said lovely things when we announced whose parents we were. “You didn’t need to come.” “Do you have a big bag for all that nachas?” We were beaming – until we came to the last teacher where we were brought crashing down to earth. “Your child has a hard time understanding the material.” “Your child may have done well at her previous school but the competition is greater here.” “Maybe the material is just too difficult for her.” We felt like deflated balloons.
And then (I really couldn’t stop myself) I interrupted the teacher’s tirade to question why my daughter’s difficulties seemed unique to this particular class. In fact (and I’m not proud of myself for this), I even said, “None of her other teachers say that; she’s doing extremely well in their classes.” Yes, I need to watch my tongue. Yes, I let my frustration get the better of me.
The evening finally ended and we had a few choices to make. The first was what to tell our daughter and the broader one was how to react to the whole experience.
On the first issue, we decided on a carefully monitored discussion of the situation. This was one of my younger children and subject to my “no more rescuing” philosophy that her older siblings had been spared (to their detriment I believe, but that’s another blog). A significant aspect of life is the ability to deal with difficult people. We need to learn to respond politely even when ideas are not expressed clearly. We need to learn to treat teachers (and others in authority) with respect, despite our frustration. We need to find ways to do our best even under adverse conditions.
The key is to focus on the positive while calmly accepting the negative.
Yes, there are worse circumstances than a teacher who lacks competence and understanding but in a child’s eyes, and given the amount of time they spend together, this looms large. “Managing this challenging situation will help you grow in ways you can’t even imagine,” we told our daughter. (I think she rolled her eyes but I pretended not to see.)
I’m not sure she was comforted by this resolution of the situation – although her grades in that subject did improve – but I was taken aback by my own words. Here I was lecturing (okay, speaking softly and gently to) my daughter on the appropriate way to respond to this teacher while I was still reeling from the evening’s experience.
And then it came to me. Of course, my reaction should be no different than hers. This was also an opportunity for me to learn and grow, to respond calmly to the teacher’s negative report and to discuss working together instead of going immediately into attack mode. And on a deeper level, it was a lesson about life. Instead of basking in the pleasure of all the positive comments, I allowed the negative remarks to shape my whole experience of the evening.
I needed to change my attitude before I could hope to help my daughter. There is almost no experience in life that is composed on only “good” moments. Vacations and travel can be wonderful but there are certainly plenty of hassles involved (I will pointedly refrain from bashing the TSA). A wedding is a time of such joy but there is also a lot of family dysfunction surfacing during those moments – just ask any even planner! Childbirth is one of life’s most precious miracles but it is certainly not without pain.
The key is to focus on the positive while calmly accepting the negative. It’s the challenge of life in all areas, both big and small. So now, with the passage of time and perspective, I can thank that teacher for reminding me of this important life lesson. And for giving me the opportunity to try to implement it personally, as well as teaching it to my daughter. Although, if you are reading this, I want you to know that she is a genius with exemplary character traits – just like all her other teachers said!