Ever have those moments when something seems so crazy and so wrong that you fall into that trap of optimism and naïveté, convinced that finally you have found something about which there will be universal agreement?
I certainly have moments like that. And it happened this weekend when I discovered and subsequently shared the fact that the Providence teachers contract does not require teachers to attend parent-teacher conferences. It was a quote by our state education commissioner, Angelica Infante-Green, that caught my attention: when asked about what needed to change in order for Harrison Peters, the new superintendent, to be successful, Infante-Green cited the need to “put away our adult agendas and move forward.” The example she went on to highlight, according to the Providence Journal, was that all teachers need to attend parent-teacher conferences, something that is not currently required by the contract.
My years teaching under two different union contracts and my fifteen years as a parent led me down what turned out to be a naive and misguided path of certainty—I was sure no one would defend this.
I know, I know. I should have known better.
Perhaps my certainty was really just hope in disguise, dashed quickly by people who immediately deflected from the issue, mischaracterized my critique, and dabbled in ad hominem responses and retorts.
The problem is the contract, a collective bargaining agreement that does not require teachers to be at parent teacher conferences. I don’t want to talk about the high percentage of teachers who do attend or what happens if the teacher has the flu. I don’t want to hear about how unfair it is for a salaried employee to be expected to meet with parents outside of regular school hours. I don’t want to engage in conversations about child care or second jobs or single mothers. I don’t want to talk about teacher shortages and salaries. And it’s not because I don’t believe all of these topics are worthy of attention, dialog and debate— it is simply because they are beside the point.
The issue at hand is one simple thing—the teachers’ contract in my state’s capital city allows teachers to choose to skip parent teacher conferences just because they feel like it. That needs to change.
Salaried employees in virtually every field work a second job and have young children or aging parents to care for—they don’t get to blow off their professional obligations, especially not one as important (and rare!) as face to face time between teacher and parent.
But a few educators who weighed in on Twitter made it clear that they see parent-teacher conferences as extra work for which they should be additionally compensated. My disillusioned surprise at this take is again informed by my own experience —parent teacher conferences and back-to-school night were always a part of the job. Sure, there were folks who couldn’t make it due to an unforeseen or extenuating circumstance but no one doubted the obligatory nature of them.
The good news is that the ridiculous push back on Twitter did not come from teachers who work in Providence—so there is reason to be hopeful that those closest to the work will agree that it’s a no-brainer that teachers be contractually required to attend parent-teacher conferences.
God help us if, on the heels of the Johns Hopkins report, a state takeover of the city’s schools and the installation of a new superintendent, we can’t even agree on that.
(To read the whole long and winding Twitter thread on this topic, click here.)