I just got home from parent teacher conferences for my 7th grade son who attends our local middle school. The conferences are only five minutes long, largely because the sheer number of students rotating through at least five teachers per day makes the scheduling of conferences difficult in logistical terms. The teachers’ contract adds to that challenge. I do not think five minutes is ideal but I do think it is much better than nothing.
I had the opportunity to spend time, one-on-one, in my kid’s classrooms with each of his teachers. We were able to look one another in the eye and share some time together, focused on how my son is doing in their class. Each teacher showed me his grades, shared what they see from him in class in terms of participation and behavior, and listened as I offered potentially interesting or helpful insights about him.
People say all the time that a five minute conference is a waste of time—I’ve even said it myself, though if I’m being honest, it was likely out of frustration that I had dropped the ball and not signed up in time to even get on the conference list. (Everyone should be able to get on the list—but that is a different topic I’ve written about here.) But the truth is, any time a teacher and parent spend together is valuable if it is in the spirit of partnership.
During a five minute conference, I can let the teacher know that I want to be in touch again in a few weeks to revisit an issue that may have come up. Or I can identify or brainstorm changes we can make at home to help set him up for greater success. I can share information about his past school that might explain why he is especially strong—or weak—in a particular area. We can even share a laugh about how different or similar he may be to his older brother who they know from past years.
Perfection can’t be the goal. There will always be some teachers with whom five minutes is sufficient and others with whom I wish I had more time—and others I may not even feel the need to meet. But I can schedule a meeting or phone call if needed and the five minute conference might make the additional meetings more productive and more comfortable. Often just a simple email check-in fits the bill if follow up is needed.
The five minute parent-teacher conference is no panacea—but it is, without question, better than nothing.