January 26, 2020
I’ve never known the kind of love like the kind a father has for his child.
Until two years ago. And it’s been quite the ride so far…
For the first time in a parent-teacher conference, I was on the other side of the table.
The Curious Parent
Anxiety set in. Deep down, I knew what was coming. This was absolute torture. Some mix of compliance, failure, and success–but how much of each? And what would the teacher(s) say?
After all, if my child’s teacher said something bad about my child, wasn’t that really a reflection on me and my parenting skills? Was this “parent-teacher conference” really a conference all about me and how I should be a better parent?
My wife and I love our son. We feel like we know him well. He loves playing trucks–nonstop. He loves to cuddle up alongside you to read a book together, anytime, anywhere. He loves watching traffic, Bubble Guppies, and Paw Patrol. He’ll pull us by the hand to go outside for long walks around the neighborhood. He’s very social. He loves people. He has the memory of an elephant; the heart of a lion; the eyes of a hawk; the smiles and laughs of a baby; the curiosity of a boy; and the occasional stubbornness of a horse. (He gets that last one from his father).
He loves giving and receiving hugs. We cherish these #MyalsMoments.
We’re experiencing parent love. It’s the kind of love that’s unconditional, sacrificial, and never-ending. It’s the kind of love for which you’d lay down your own life.
What’s most meaningful to us as parents in this conference? Content’s on the list–somewhere. But that’s neither the whole picture nor the most meaningful. Of course, I found this fascinating, especially after having invested so much into content knowledge, facilitation, and integration throughout my teaching career.
The Informative Teacher
For well over a decade, I faciliated parent-teacher conferences from the perspective of an educator. I was well-versed in communicating pertinent information to parents and guardians of fifth graders of whom I was privileged to teach and learn alongside. I knew exactly what was required of me as a professional educator, and especially as a highly-certified, licensed, elementary, public school teacher.
Simply put, I had memorized the content, and I could speak to the gaps and overlaps between standards and learners. I could have a thorough conversation with parents about how school and home were going to work together to address learning needs, including providing supports, extending challenges, and keeping the lines of communication open. At the very least, I was literally privileged to serve elementary students in a community with incredible parent presence and support.
I think I could still tell parents anything they’d want to know about content. But as a parent myself, now, I’m not sure if content is the only thing–or even the main thing–other parents are really wanting to know in these conference conversations.
In my first conference as a parent, I realized that my child’s teacher was providing a more meaningful context than what I had provided to parents of fifth graders years ago.
The Memorable Experience
Perhaps it was the aura, the experience, and the first-time feels of being parents in a parent-teacher conference. Perhaps it was the personal connection and responsibility we, as legal guardians, felt for raising our son. Perhaps it was just me feeling sentimental–as Libras do.
I don’t know. But this felt wierd. Like really wierd.
I couldn’t believe it was finally happening. At last, I was on the other side of the parent-teacher conference. It was like I was having an out-of-body experience. For once, I was in a space and time where I was required to be vulnerable. And it was very uncomfortable.
For just a little while.
Because what I really wanted as a parent in this conference… was exactly what I got! I’m so grateful for this experience, and it’s worth reflecting upon once again right here.
What I Really Wanted to Know as the Parent in the Conference
In order of importance, I wanted to know that:
1–The teacher liked our son.
I was reassured when I saw the teacher smiling while she talked, leading with positive observations. As a parent, that put me at ease. I was ready to hear anything after my mental ice was broken. Because–really? I don’t really know the teacher that well. Yet. Think about that: I don’t know much about the person with whom I’m entrusting the most precious thing in our lives for ten hours a day.
2–The teacher knew our son.
As an educator, I know it’s impossible to get to know every single thing about every single child, because we’re limited to finite schedules, requirements, and resources. And really, we already know our son. I wanted to know that the teacher knew our son, and could tell us two or three unique things about him that we may also see at home.
3–The teacher cared for our son’s overall well-being.
While safety and meeting basic needs are always number one and should never be taken for granted, this time, I was thinking about social-emotional-learning. Does he get along well with others? Does he have friends? How does he respond to conflict? One thing I greatly appreciated was how the teacher told several short stories about our son. She sprinkled anecdotes, highlights, and one-liners with grace and humor throughout our conversation.
Even if every single story didn’t make my son look like the perfect kid, I was happy to hear the truth. And I was just overjoyed that the teacher had so many face-to-face interactions and personal experiences to share right off-the-cuff. My parent trust level with this teacher just increased–exponentially.
4–The teacher wanted to work together for our son.
Our son’s child care teachers communicate all day, every day. We get notifications and emails on our phones about everything from fees due to parent nights to bathroom breaks to pictures of learning experiences. As parents, we love frequent communication about our son and his activities. That relieves our concerns, and, often leaves us with few remaining questions.
Through open conversation, together, we agreed on areas in need of improvement. We walked away with two main concerns, as well as strategies that each of us would try, in our own spaces, to help Myals.
I loved walking away with just two things on which to focus, including practical strategies for addressing needs at home. As an educator, I know I made the mistake of unloading the laundry list of “things to work on” on parents, and, often with minimal strategies that could actually be reinforced at home. This simplicity was refreshing.
A nervous father no more, I’m looking forward to our next parent-teacher conference.
We had our first parent-teacher conference… as parents, today. What I really cared about as a parent was a little different than what I've ever shared as a teacher. I wish I had had this perspective eighteen years ago. #MyalsMoments #LittleH1 #HamstraHighlights pic.twitter.com/9e7AK4sLX4
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) January 14, 2020
No. I'm not working late at the coffee shops and restaurants tonight. Or, at least, I'm taking a break for a few hours. Tonight, we practice saying "Bubble Guppies," we play trucks, and we read books together. #MyalsMoments #LittleH1 #HamstraHighlights @LeannHamstra pic.twitter.com/tWHL9CVn6q
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) December 20, 2019
As much as he loves playing trucks, he was so proud to BE a truck–especially a firetruck–for halloween. Grateful to go for a family walk and reconnect with our neighbors before the storm. #MyalsMoments #HamstraHighlights #LittleH1 pic.twitter.com/ZPjIBvRcaz
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) November 1, 2019
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) March 22, 2019
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) July 13, 2019