Hot on HuffPost Parents:
- 27 Fantastic Books For Kids Of All Ages
- Mike Ryan: Ben Affleck Bids Bill Hader & Fred Armisen A Fond Farewell
Parent-Teacher Conferences Really a Game of Cat and Mouse
Filed under: Your Kids, Big Kids, In The News, Health & Safety: Big Kids, Development: Big Kids, Behavior: Big Kids, Nutrition: Big Kids, Education: Big Kids, Activities: Big Kids, Gear Guides: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Expert Advice: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Tweens
"This world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own ... as men busied themselves about their various concerns, they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water."
Wow. Sound like a parent-teacher conference?
Those actually are the opening lines of H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds." Never read it? Your child's English teacher will make a mental note of that.
She will spend the entire conference evaluating and judging you, reaching harsh but silent conclusions about your fitness as a parent. You will likewise evaluate her, being all warm and friendly on the outside, while secretly wondering why your tax dollars pay this doofus' salary.
Why are you squirming?
Danielle Pillet-Shore, an assistant professor of communication at the University of New Hampshire, has been studying parent-teacher interactions for a decade. She tells the Chicago Tribune that conferences are rarely about the child.
Parents and teachers are really evaluating each other.
Sure, they talk about the kid and how well she or he is doing in class. Meanwhile, Pillet-Shore tells the Tribune, a subtle game of psychological chess is going on right below the surface.
"Parents and teachers behave in a way suggesting that they are each treating the conference as an occasion for their own performance review -- using the student's progress, or lack thereof, as a gauge of how the teacher is doing at his or her job of 'being a teacher' and how the parent is doing at his or her job of 'being a parent,' " she tells the newspaper.
Maybe the game is less chess than charades.
Say your kid is an absolute moron. He adds two plus two and comes up with a blank expression. He thinks a fjord is a Swedish automobile. How can a teacher tell you all this while still looking like a competent educator? Likewise, how can you, as a parent, cop to raising a nincompoop?
Pillet-Shore tells the Tribune many parents start badmouthing their child, letting the teacher know they are aware of his or her problems. Then they come up with reasons why the problems are beyond their control. The kid is just a born nincompoop. Gets it from his father.
Parents -- consciously or subconsciously -- feel judged by teachers and want to show they are at least alert, attentive, observant and responsive to the fact that their child has the mentality agility of a house plant.
"In short, during parent-teacher conferences, parents manifest a pervasive concern to show teachers, 'I'm a good parent,' " Pillet-Shore tells the Tribune.
Teachers play the game, too. They ask parents for their input and observations about the child's progress. Pillet-Shore tells the newspaper teachers do this, again, perhaps subconsciously, to shift the focus and responsibility onto the parents.
This also helps keeps the conference from taking a negative turn and spotlighting the teachers' shortcomings, Pillet-Shore adds.
"It is the teacher who consistently works to end the parent-teacher conference interaction on a positive note, delivering future-oriented, favorable or optimistic comments about the student," she says.
The goal of the parent-teacher conference is, then, not to evaluate and help the child. Pillet-Shore tells the Tribune it's really about parents and teachers wanting to leave feeling good about themselves and that any problems are the other person's fault.
Sigh. Grown children. What can you do with them?