Parents want more time with teachers
EAGLE COUNTY – There’s one minute left on the clock, other parents are waiting at the classroom door and Bambi Forbes still has questions about her son. The teacher won’t have time to answer them today.It’s a typical dilemma with parent teacher conferences, Forbes said. Children do so much at school, but teachers and parents have only two 10-minute sessions a year to talk about it all. So, those two sessions can be rushed and incomplete, leaving many parents feeling like they’re missing out.Many parents in the school district are pushing for double the conference time with teachers. Productive meetings are invaluable to a child’s education, they say, and more time is needed to develop strong relationships with teachers.”Parent-teacher conferences may be the only time during the school year that a family will connect with their child’s teacher,” Forbes said. “Every ten minute conference I have attended involves the hurried stress of seeing the next family waiting at the door while you try to quickly finish up with the teacher.
It’s the tag-team approach to education.In an ideal conference, parents and teachers clue each other in to what the other can’t see and formulate a plan, said Dana Maurer, who has a son at Edwards Elementary.Parents get the story behind the report card, the projects they glue, the books they read and the math problems they’re struggling with. Do they get along? Are they happy? Do they behave?Teachers find out what goes on at home, how much time is spent on homework, what a child’s favorite video games are, if they’re bored and whine when they work.Putting those two sides together can make a big difference in a child’s education, Maurer said. Many families don’t have time outside these conferences to talk about education with teachers.”Once we know better how to help with certain things at home, we’ll see them do better at school and even testing,” Maurer said. “We’re zeroing in on what they’re weak in on both ends and making it better.”So, with statistics showing that parental involvement is even more important than teacher quality in a child’s education, why wouldn’t the school want to give parents and teachers more time together, Maurer said.”It would help us and our kids if teachers would have more time to adequately tell us what’s going on – what we can help them with at home,” Maurer said.
Knowing the importance of these conferences, teachers are put in the uncomfortable position of either working off the clock or sacrificing time with parents. Many teachers, it seems, fit that extra time in somehow.”I felt very rushed when I tried to meet with 20 families in four hours; that’s 12 minutes per family,” said Erika Donahue, a kindergarten teacher at Edwards Elementary. “By the end of the night I was an hour and a half behind schedule. Fortunately, the families I work with were understanding and patiently waited. But they shouldn’t have to.”Donahue said there just wasn’t enough time to say, “Is there anything you wanted to ask or tell me?””We are not as effective at our jobs when we don’t have the parent perspective of a child’s development,” Donahue said. Forbes said teachers already work far beyond the hours for which they’re paid, and that’s not fair to the teachers. “Conferencing with parents needs to be an important, salary-covered part of the school year,” Forbes said.
A group of parents is asking the school district to shorten the school year from 175 class days to 173. Teachers would still work 175 days, and pay would be the same, but those two days without students would be devoted to parental involvement.”This would allow a comfortable 20 minute parent-teacher conference per student- time devoted to personal one-on-one communication to improve a child’s progress in school,” Forbes said.The school board is currently examining ways to give parents and teachers more time together, said Scott Green, president of the Board of Education. It’s more complicated though than cutting class days for conferences, Green said, but he believes the board will have a good plan set by the next school season.”One of our biggest goals is increasing parental involvement, so that’s a slap in the face with just a 10-minute conference,” Green said. “But we can’t just say we’re going to cut contact days. We need more information. We want to have some substance and structure across the board, so we know we’re communicating a common message to the parent.”Green would like to find different ways to explain information like testing data with parents so that teachers don’t have to go over it, thus giving them time to talk about other things, he said. He imagines assemblies in libraries or gyms taking care of that.Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or firstname.lastname@example.org.