I don’t know what I expected — an inquisition about my parenting style? The discovery that my 5-year-old was a secret sociopath? A misfit genius? Whatever I imagined this bogeyman to be, my first parent-teacher conference was nothing close.
Instead, we adults sat on tiny-person chairs around a miniature table, looking over evidence of my son’s 12-week evolution. I saw his handwriting on the first day of kindergarten, and how it had changed three months later. (Still no “finger-spaces” between his words.) I saw what he could sight-read in September, how he’d tripled that by November, and where on the reading-assessment levels he now rates. (Pretty well, though he still stumbles when trying to read the word “read.”)
I pictured this veteran teacher, sitting all day in those itty-bitty chairs, doing the same show-and-tell exercise for two dozen other families, and realized how much an elementary educator’s job involves teaching parents the processes of public school.
It’s visible, the mark this bureaucracy leaves on a 5 year old. On the first day of class, all the kids looked vaguely perplexed at having to sit in fixed seats or at assigned spots on the carpet. That’s gone. You can see it in their faces. They’ve toughened a bit, figured out that they’re being funneled into a much bigger system, and that it has rules.
I’d received a blank copy of our son’s first report card from his teacher several weeks ago, a savvy move to prepare newbie moms for a three-page chart that parses their child’s every impulse into a numeric rating, yet remains somehow less-than-illuminating.
The metrics attempt to quantify the mystery of learning and break it into a chart. Yet during the past year of Education Lab reporting, what’s become clear again and again is that every time there’s real improvement — in instruction or learning or school climate — it’s not a program-for-sale that does the trick. Nor a test or graph.
Every time, it’s the simple, human interaction between a teacher and her student. Or between a teacher and that student’s parent.
“He’s a writer first,” said my son’s teacher, proudly showing the reporter-mom her child’s response to a picture-book drawing. Most kids had sketched their own versions, she said. My son wrote his very first essay.