When I was a new teacher, I would bring makeup and a toothbrush to school on conference days, so I could freshen up and look professional for the families. I was teaching ELD, and my amazing bilingual IA would start making phone calls an hour or so before the conferences started, reminding families that we'd love to see them. She would spend the conferences racing from teacher to teacher, trying to keep up with the translation requests, and I'd rise to the challenge of conducting conferences in my second semester Spanish. It was perhaps fortunate that most of the families that came were the ones I didn't have a lot to say to. "She works very hard. Very respectful. A great student."
There was the year of the H1N1 scare, when our principal bought hand sanitizer for every teacher's conference table. There was the year we responded to complaints about the arena scheduling and held conferences in our classrooms. That garnered more complaints, so we went back to tried-and-true in the gym. Sometimes there's a huge rush on the second night, time whipping by as a steady stream approaches the table. Other times the spring conferences only garner a handful of visitors.
There may be tears. A kid weeps in shame, doubled by the public forum for their tears. A parent weeps with pride, looking at the first F-free report card in years. High schoolers accompanying younger siblings swarm the tables of their old teachers, absence having increased their nostalgia.
One year a girl showed up at conferences alone. "Mom had to work," she said, "but I told her I'd check in with all the teachers." She doggedly carried her report card around the room, and we each spent time talking with her about her strengths and where she could stand to improve.
Fifteen years of ELD ended, and four years of teaching ELA meant longer lines and more conversations with parents. I always promise kids, "If you show up, I'll find SOMETHING nice to say about you. Without lying." This is occasionally a difficult task, but I'm more likely than not to pull my punches when I see the whole family in front of me. Boisterous kids are suddenly quiet and nervous. Parents are nervous too, or angry, or embarrassed (usually covering it with anger). Instead of saying, "Your kid is a jerk and outstandingly lazy," I find myself saying, "He doesn't always make good choices about who he sits with, but I've seen some improvement lately." The parent raises a knowing eyebrow at their child, who shoots me an abashedly grateful look.
There are, of course, plenty of times when I lay it all out there. Although--perennial teachers' lament--the families you most need to see are the ones who never seem to come.
Other families show up over and over. Older siblings in college, and the younger ones now traipsing around their gym with their sheet full of As. We form mutual admiration societies--
"Thank you for all the work you put into educating my child!"
"No, thank YOU for sending your terrific kid to us!"
Not the best use of our time, maybe, but both sides appreciate the boost.
There's a point in the evening when there's a lull, and you look around and realize you have been in this building for twelve hours and still have another hour and a half left, and that your own kids will be in bed by the time you get home. Then a family walks in, and you think, "Ooh, I can't wait to tell them Jessica's reading scores have gone up three grade levels this year," or maybe, "I'm going to see if Hayden's mom can back me up on reading outside of class." It's just a few nights per year. It's worth it.
And if you get too bored, you can always work on your blog.