Being a Parent and a Teacher

The intersection of being a teacher and parent continues to enlighten me. Over the years, I’ve learned how the two roles inform one another. The more I do one, the more I know about the other.

A recent example of this is parent-teacher conferences. In my first several years as a teacher — before I became a parent — I relied heavily on statistics during my conferences. I did this by prepping individual score reports for each of my students before conferences and saving them on my computer. Armed with this wealth of data, I waited for parents to arrive, knowing that I was ready. I had the answers they sought — in a spreadsheet.

My talks with parents would always begin with me printing out their child’s report, stapling it (it was always more than one page), and sliding it across the table for their viewing glory. Everything that followed was based on the report. A high exam score here, a mediocre quiz there, and, of course, missing homework. These numbers told the story.

I took a lot of pride in those score reports. They were my evidence of being a good teacher because, well, they showed that I was “data-driven.” They went beyond their child’s report card and showed that I was able to quantify my students’ learning experiences accurately and in great detail. The scores showed exactly where a kid was and how they got there. This, in my eyes at the time, was a trademark of quality teaching. In an era of big data, what more could a parent want but a teacher who maintained every possible metric on their child?

After I became a parent, things changed. Parent-teacher conferences changed. Actually, no, the conferences stayed exactly the same, it was my perception of them that changed. I saw them differently. I started noticing that most parents didn’t care about the score report that I prized so much. After I handed it to them and explained the dazzling display of numbers, the parents would frequently look back at me and ask plainly, “So, how is my child doing?”

What I began to realize is that my stuffy, multi-page reports meant very little to them. Despite being presented with columns and columns of performance info on their kid, they needed me to tell them something that beyond and between the numbers. I’m with their child everyday. What was I seeing? What did it mean? Being fed data was not what they came for. They needed me to talk to them like a parent, not a data analyst.

I didn’t notice it before becoming a parent, but looking back, this had always been the pattern at PT conferences. The score reports were never as helpful and informative to parents as I thought they were. This was numbing realization, but also a beautiful one. It took becoming a parent to see this.

As a new, young, and less confident teacher, I had a tendency to hide behind numbers, just like I did with my score reports. Relying on the data gave me conviction. It gave me answers. I didn’t know the struggle that comes with loving, raising, and parenting a child. The score reports helped me pretend that I did. I was talking about their achievement in modeling exponential functions. The parents I met were concerned on whether their child was doing the right thing.

I saw the young people on my roster as students. The parents needed me to see them as kids.

As a father, I’m beginning to notice this trend in my own kids’ teachers — and it’s VERY annoying. Seemingly every meeting I have with one of them opens up to an ocean of data that does nothing but give me an truncated perspective on my kid’s development. It stays there until I bring up something less measurable, like my kid’s behavior, ability to ask questions, receive feedback, or work well with others. My questions about these types of things seem off-pitch given tone that’s already been set by the teachers. It’s always Fountas and Pinnell this and Expeditionary Learning that. The whole experience is unfriendly, impersonal, and treats my kid like a collection of data points and not a child. It erases their personhood. I make a living in academia, I know my kids’ levels are important. But I’m a parent first. I wish they spoke to me as one.

Despite my bitterness, I have grace for my kid’s teachers. Given the data-hungry institutions they function under, they’re doing the best they can with what they know. Just like me.

I think if I wasn’t a teacher who once did the same thing, I wouldn’t be as peeved as I am. If I really think about it, maybe this means that who I’m actually frustrated with is not my kid’s teachers, but with myself. My past self.

I mean, I was them. I was a teacher who didn’t know any better but to lean on data to connect with parents. Meeting with teachers now as parent makes me cringe at all those score reports and “data-driven” conversations I initiated. It conjures all those missed opportunities I had for more meaningful exchanges with parents. Instead of speaking with them about what really mattered, I forced so many parents to stare at a sheet of numbers. I’m not proud of this.

In this way, my kid’s teachers help me see how much I’ve evolved as a teacher and how my meetings with parents are different now. I have no score reports. No big data. There’s only attentiveness, stories, and love. I’m hopeful that one day the meetings with my kid’s teachers will offer me some of the same.

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