Let me begin this post by saying I have the utmost respect for teachers. A few of my closest family friends teach elementary school for a living. For the most part, my kids’ teachers communicate well with me about any issues that arise and willingly adapt their teaching styles to meet my kids’ learning needs. Having sung the praises of the educators in my life, I now want to point out (hopefully humorously) the one place I need them to do better, way better: offering reasonable time slots for parent-teacher conferences.
Last week, I missed two parent-teacher conferences (one for each child) two days in a row.
While I often run late to everything by 5 minutes, if an appointment is on the calendar for my phone, I almost always remember and show up, but not this time. I blame my brain. Short of early onset dementia (let’s hope not), my only rational explanation involves my brain rebelling against my frequently overscheduled professional and personal calendars. At work, I commonly go from one meeting to the next to the next, often in a variety of locations. At home, we juggle doctor appointments, after school activities, car care, grocery shopping, prescription pickups, special social events, holidays – the list goes on and on (and on!)
Really, then, as I foolishly attempted to shove a parent-teacher conference into a timeslot between an unusually early end to my work day and a chiropractor appointment taking place 15 minutes after the end of the conference in the next town, my brain said, “Oh, no, you don’t. I’m going on strike!”
It deviously converted the conference time to 3:30 p.m., repeatedly, even though I knew, KNEW, it was scheduled for 3 p.m. I called my daughter’s teacher at 3:22 p.m. from the car, apologized profusely, and begged for a time slot that might actually work within my schedule. She took pity on me this time.
For my son’s parent-teacher conference, I scheduled it at 4 p.m. on a day when my daughter needed to be at gymnastics at 5 p.m. in the next town. I invited my parents over to help resolve the scheduling conflict this created. We then proceeded to chat, catching up after their recent three-week trip. We all looked at the clock at 4:10 p.m., and my son and I went screaming out the door, making the parent-teacher conference with 10 minutes to spare. Again, my brain rebelled when I tried to pack too much into an already bursting schedule. (After the conference, I shuttled my son to a 6 p.m. lacrosse practice.)
Just like the book Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, teacher schedules and parent schedules also come from different planets.
Many parents work some variation of an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, right? Teachers know this fact about the business world, right? Right??? Either they don’t care or they choose to ignore it when setting up their schedules for parent-teacher conferences. Almost all of the time slots, by design, thwart any parent’s schedule, working or otherwise.
(Not an) Option #1: Before school
Teachers in our town offer conferences on weekdays before school starts, usually a few minutes prior to the time when the school bus comes to pick up my children. Try as I might, I still can’t figure out how to be in two places at once. If you have a mad scientist in your basement who has mastered the art of cloning moms or a time-turner like Hermione in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, please let me know. I am in desperate need of both of these abilities.
How do the teachers respond when I explain the morning bus schedule to them? (And, really, shouldn’t they know about school bus schedules too? Right???)
Pat teacher response: “Oh, it’s okay, just bring the kids with you, they can sit outside the classroom.”
My brain nearly explodes with this suggestion, especially in relation to conference times before school. I feel the need to enumerate the multiple reasons that make this before school parent-teacher conference – with children in tow – unworkable for me:
- I can barely get my kids up in time to catch the school bus, usually with less than two minutes to spare, let alone drag them to school at 7:15 a.m., a full 45 minutes before they actually need to be there.
- My kids attend two different schools in our town, separated by two miles on the same road. Theoretically, I can bring one of them to school early for the parent-teacher conference, but afterward, I still have to drive the other child to the correct school.
- Driving to my workplace from their schools instead of my house adds a full 15 minutes to my normal 20-minute commute since their schools lie in the absolute opposite direction of my workplace. Let’s do the math. If, conservatively, a parent-teacher conference lasts 20 minutes, and I manage to leave at precisely 7:35 p.m., by driving one kid 10 minutes out of my way to the other school and then turning around to make a 35-minute commute to work, I arrive at work at 8:20 a.m. Since my position requires me to be there at exactly 8 a.m. every day, I’m now late… because of a parent-teacher conference… that realistically did not need to take place at 7:15 a.m. …if teachers respected parent work schedules at all.
(Not an) Option #2: Immediately after school, but not after 4:30 p.m.
Afternoon conference times present their own set of challenges. They start at 3 p.m. and end at 4:30 p.m. Seriously. Do I need to reiterate that many parents in the business world work until 5 p.m.? Even for those lucky parents working a reduced or flexible schedule (like me), we usually meet our kids when they get off the bus, having forfeited after school care for quality time and activities like gymnastics, lacrosse, and Tae Kwon Do. Let me count the reasons why parent-teacher conferences immediately after school present a challenge:
- My work day ends at 2:30 p.m., and I arrive home a little after 3 p.m. While, theoretically, I could drive at breakneck speed to make a 3 p.m. parent-teacher conference at my daughter’s school, I couldn’t also make it to my son’s school in time.
- My kids’ bus drops them off at our home at exactly 3:25 p.m., meaning, I can’t make it back home in time from a 3 p.m. parent-teacher conference to meet them when they get off the bus. Short of breakneck speed and absence of traffic (haha, like that’s even a thing in Vermont), the three of us would never make it to either school in time for a 3:30 p.m. parent-teacher conference.
- Between 4 and 5 p.m., my kids get ready for their various after school activities.
Parent-teacher conferences between 5 and 7 p.m. work great for me, teachers. My kids are usually taking part in a supervised group activity, which would allow me to sneak away to meet with you in peace – hint, hint!!
(Not an) Option #3: During the day the kids have off school to make time for parent-teacher conferences
This option just adds insult to insult. Teachers invite me to meet with them on the day when I have to scramble to find care for my kids who are out of school, or, even worse, take a precious, rare vacation day without hope of an extended trip to somewhere warm with my babies. Reasons why parent-teacher conferences on this day are not okay:
- Despite the school’s attempts to thwart me, usually, I have to work on this day, while my wonderful retired parents care for my children.
- The time slots offered run from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., during business hours. Teachers, I could actually make time slots between 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. on this day, since the school bus doesn’t run. Why, why won’t you offer them to me???
- If I can’t find child care and have the day off, then I want to hang out with my kids or maybe take advantage of the long three-day weekend to travel with them. Going to school on their day off is not something any of us want to do.
Teachers, I implore you. Please, please reconsider and offer reasonable parent-teacher conference times friendly to parents’ work schedules and their kids’ activity schedules.
The power to end the tension lies in your hands. Isn’t the school motto, “Be Safe, Be Kind, Be Responsible?” I ask you to be kind. Set the example you try to teach our children. Be kind to those of us raising them.
How do you manage scheduling conflicts? Do teachers offer more reasonable parent-teacher conference times in your town? Is there a happy medium?