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Rich Henderson's Diary
The First 180 Days


Rich Henderson, a lawyer, always dreamed of being a teacher. Last year, he gave up his law career and returned to the classroom to earn his teaching certification. This year, his dream finally comes true in a fifth-grade classroom in suburban Woodbury, Connecticut. Each week during this school year -- Rich's first year in the classroom -- he will share with Education World readers his thoughts and feelings about his first 180 days!

Rich's Diary: Parent-Teacher Conferences: A Tradition

Week 13

It started many years ago. Two groups of people came together for an event that has now become an American tradition. They gathered around a table and discussed the events of the recent past, sharing stories, discussing problems, and making resolutions. The parties walked away from the table agreeing to meet again for the common good. That first meeting was the beginning of what would become an American tradition celebrated each November. No, not Thanksgiving. The tradition I am talking about is the parent-teacher conference. I just had my first set of conferences, and they went better than I had expected.

"Surprise!" Who doesn't like surprises? Almost everyone enjoys a pleasant, joyful surprise. Yet, there is one time in which surprises are unwelcome and can elicit almost certain hostility. What time is that? At a parent-teacher conference. No parent wants to walk into a conference with an expectation of hearing one thing and listening to a teacher discuss his or her child's academic or behavior progress in less than glowing terms. As a teacher, I didn't want to offer the parents of my students any surprises. I have tried very hard to minimize or eliminate any opportunity for a parent to be surprised by information about grades or behavior. That has been a goal of mine since the first day of school.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of communicating with parents on a regular basis. This week, those communications paid off handsomely as I sat with each student's parent(s) and discussed the student's progress. I offered no surprises. We had already discussed any problems that had crept up during the first marking period.

Because of the prior communications, the conferences became truly productive. Instead of focusing on any academic or behavioral problems, we discussed the results of the strategies we had implemented. Are the strategies working? Do we need new ideas? What can we do for the next marking period and the rest of the school year? Answering those questions made each meeting much more productive. I am grateful for those previous times of communication and for the teachers who advised me on the importance of communicating with parents regularly.

In this season of giving thanks, I must take a moment to express my appreciation to the many teachers who have offered their support and shared their advice. I have certainly benefited from their help. Although there are too many to mention, I would like to specifically thank Danielle, my cooperating teacher during my internship, and Debbie, my current mentor during my first year of teaching. Your advice has been priceless and has certainly paid off during the parent-teacher conferences. Thank you!

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Rich Henderson
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