Friday, November 8, 2013

One More Conference (Dear Katie V2 #11)

Dear Katie,

One of the things college will not prepare you for is Parent/Teacher Conferences.  I always find it difficult to talk about my students with their parents.  Often, Im not sure what information they want me to share.  Typically, I am talking with parents non-stop for 2 hour sessions.  This year, my district decided not to give us a half day, so I taught a full day, then went straight into conferences for two hours, had a hour and a half break (it was supposed to be two hours, but some parents scheduled to come in between 3:30 and 4 showed up closer to the 4 o'clock time), and then two more hours of parents.

At the end of a long, tiring day I was told the last parent listed in the 7:30-8 o'clock block had not shown up.  I was preparing to leave when at my door was a mother and father who I had seen talking to other teachers earlier in the night.  I figured they didn't need to speak with me (their child is an A student).  They had made a point to come back and speak with me.  What could this mean?

One more conference.

I was dragging.  I left that morning before dawn, while your aunt and cousins were sleeping, I was hoping to get home and at least see them awake for a few minutes.  Parents coming back to speak with me couldn't be good.  Would they complain that their child received a "B" on a group project?  Would they "lash out" because I refuse to review where places are on a map before a quiz because I want the student to research information on the Internet rather than me spoon feeding all information to them?  Are they going to complain that an A wasn't good enough?  I was in no mental shape to spar with any angry and complaining parents.

One more conference.

One more time I rose from my chair to forcing a smile to break across my face as the husband and wife strolled across my room to my desk.

"Hello, Kevin Cullen, I teach history"

One more conference.

They introduced themselves and we all sat down.  They were new to the district and came to tell me how happy they were at their child's progress in my class.  They validated not only my teaching style but the subject matter.  The wife told me how she was telling her colleagues at work how I took the time to explain and allow the students to think how pervasive social studies is involved in everyday life.  They were happy I gave the students a solid rationale for a social studies education.  Her co-workers responded how boring their children found social studies and she explained how much fun her son was having in my class. She told her co-workers, "My son's social studies teacher is brilliant!".

They then talked about how pleased they were of the school, "______________ was just one of many kids at his old school, here it seems like his teachers really KNOW him."

One more conference.

As our conference concluded, my energy was revived.  The fatigue that had settled in from a day that began at  5am and wouldn't end until I returned home at 9pm dissipated.  The thoughts of any bad conferences I had that day retreated to the far reaches of my mind.  A smile broke across my face as I turned off the light to my room.  All this because my long day was extended by

One more conference.

Uncle Kevin 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Don't Buy It (Dear Katie #2 V10)

Dear Katie,

I realized that I must have participated in over 1000 parent teacher conferences in my career.  Over that time, I have heard some sad, encouraging, and rude words (both toward me or their child)  fly out of the mouth of parents. 

In a few weeks, I will switch sides of the desk as I attend my first parent-teacher conference for your little cousin.  I know what questions I will ask or want answered by her teacher ("Is my daughter respectful to you?", "How does she get along with the other kids?" "Is she at grade level in her academic work?")

The ONE statement I have heard on a few occasions that I will NEVER say to the teacher is...

"I am a teacher, I would never (or never heard, or don't believe, etc) that YOU ____________"

Being honest with you, what goes through my head when a parent says that is

"You may be a teacher, but it doesn't mean you're a good one."

If you think about it, what the parent is saying is the same thing I am thinking.

First, I am not a kindergarten teacher.  A different skill set is required for that position that I do not possess, need or use.  Even it we both are middle school history teachers, I have always recognized that teachers approach the subject differently.  And teaching my children to adjust and succeed under people who have different styles and methods is life.  Adaptability is a great thing to learn in school.

As a young teacher, do not allow a parent who is a teacher to assume any sense of authority over you.  Does your principal support what you are doing in the classroom? That is more validation than a student's parent who happens to be a teacher.  

It is a badge of honor whenever someone tells me 
my classroom is not run in the typical way, 
both when it is complimentary or said derisively.

When another teacher is telling you to do things "their way" it does not logically follow that it is the "right way" or what will work best with "your way". 

"I am a teacher, I would never (or never heard, or don't believe, etc) that YOU ____________"

Remember, a teacher who has the arrogance to use this line does not have your best interest at heart but is out to gain an advantage for their child. 

I don't mind if I am asked questions about what I do, because I believe I am competent to answer them. I have taken the time to reflect on what I do in the classroom and why I do it.  You should prepare yourself to answer any questions to why you do what you do in the classroom.  And if you can't, or you realize your answers are less than satisfactory to the parent, maybe you need to think about what you do and retool.

But no parent should believe they have some kind of position of power over you just because they happen to be employed in the same field.  

"I am a teacher, I would never (or never heard, or don't believe, etc) that YOU ____________"

Don't buy it.

Uncle Kevin

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Teach in the Moment (Dear Katie V2 #9)

Dear Katie,

The other day at school,  I went down to the gym to get ready for soccer practice. Some of my former students, who are now sophomores in high school, came back to play basketball with my principal and some junior high boys.   I walked through the gym as they were warming up.  A few stopped, walked over to me, shook my hand and asked how everything was.  It was special they approached me first, usually it's the other way around.  It brought back great memories of classes and times on the baseball field (they also played baseball for the team I coach).  They were great boys and would love to have them in class forever.  But that isn't life.

You have students for one year.  ONE YEAR.

And it flies by.  I have learned, even in years that I have rough students, there are always kids that can bring a smile to my face; who are motivated to stretch their thinking and creativity in my classroom.  In those hard years, focus on the students who are appreciating you classroom.  They are there.  Don't wish the bad years away so quickly.

It's only ONE YEAR.

One great thing about my time teaching at the Christian school I was at for 7 years was that as the upper school history teacher, I was able to see my students grow up.  My relationships with them were not just for one year, but 4 (and sometimes even longer since I often had contact with them from an earlier age since K-12 was all housed in one building.)

That isn't the case for most teachers.

You only get ONE YEAR.

So many fond memories.  So many laughs.  So many "ah-ha" moments.


As you teach, you will be surprised how much students will influence how you approach the topics you cover.  You will find yourself predicting the questions they will have, the misunderstandings that may develop, and the solutions to bring clarity.  The key to the lesson may be develop because five years earlier some student gave you an example or an idea to use in future classes.

Savor every moment.

For the ONE YEAR.

My soccer team this year was not expected to do well.  Some of their best players went down to injuries throughout the year.  And they kept winning much more than they lost.  I had two great captains, my on-field coaches, who were respected and led by example.  If some menial task needed to be done, they were the first to volunteer.  The season is now over.  I will never coach half the boys again because next year they will be playing for the high school.  As I went through this enjoyable season (that ended on penalty kicks in the semi-finals of the county tournament) I tried to take in as much of what was happening.  Remembering the examples of what can be accomplished when a team works as a team will be wonderful stories to share with future teams, and allow me to relive the memories.

Memories that will travel far beyond the ONE YEAR.

You will never become financially wealthy as a teacher but you will possess a treasure trove of memories that no one will ever be able to take away.

Uncle Kevin