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Friday, April 18, 2014

Parent-teacher conferences offer insight, perspective

By Suzanne Perez Tobias

What do teachers make?

Spoken-word artist (and former teacher) Taylor Mali puts it this way:

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home at around dinnertime.

“Hi, this is Mr. Mali. Hope I haven’t called at a bad time. I just wanted to talk to you about something that your son said today in class.

“To the biggest bully in the grade, he said, ‘Leave that kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don’t you?’ And that was the noblest act of courage that I have ever seen.”

I make parents see their children for who they are and who they can be …

Last week was parent-teacher conference time at my kids’ school, and I thought about Mali’s words.

My husband and I sat across a small table from one of our daughter’s teachers, then our son’s. We looked at printouts that listed homework assignments, tests, projects and extra credit. We saw participation scores and cumulative grades.

The teachers showed us how Hannah and Jack measured up on mandatory assessments, test after acronym-laden test, each score delivered matter-of-factly.

“Here’s the target,” the teacher said. “And here’s what she scored. … Here’s the target, here’s her score.”

We nodded. Looks good. So that’s it?

“Hannah works so hard,” the teacher added. “Things don’t always come naturally or easily to her. But she does the work, and she keeps going, and she figures it out.”

I make parents see their children for who they are and who they can be …

“I’ve told her that’s what makes people successful,” the teacher added. “That’s going to take her far in life.”

During Jack’s conference, his teacher pointed to a self-evaluation he had completed in class. Despite impressive grades, Jack had given himself low marks on “positive attitude” in nearly every class.

“Why is that?” the teacher asked. “Explain what you meant by that.”

Jack recalled how he often thinks he’ll make a 100 on a test — or even above 100 with extra credit, he just knows it — and he’ll come away with a 94 or 95 instead. Sometimes even a B.

The horror.

His teacher and I exchanged glances, and I smiled at my husband. Jack refused to post his last report card on the fridge, I remembered, because he had made one B. High standards? Check.

The teacher smiled and nodded.

I make parents see their children for who they are and who they can be …

I used to think parent-teacher conferences were about test scores, grades, study habits and college resumes. Through the years, I’ve learned it’s really about perspective and insight.

We see our children like little saplings we plant in the yard. We shield them from wind and cold. We dutifully measure their growth. We celebrate each bloom and bud. We know each leaf, each flaking piece of bark. We know and love them up close, unconditionally.

Teachers walk through the forest. Every now and then they’ll stop, mid-hike, hand over the binoculars and offer us a dazzling new view.

Here’s the recipe

Last week I mentioned how a recent baking session had prompted meaningful conversation with my teenaged daughter. It also prompted a few readers to request our recipe for Oreo Balls (also known as Oreo Truffles):

Using a food processor, grind one box of Oreo cookies into crumbs. (Put aside a couple tablespoons of crumbs for garnishing the truffles.) In a large mixing bowl, combine the cookie crumbs with one brick of cream cheese. Roll the dough into small balls, dip into melted white almond bark, transfer to waxed paper and sprinkle with crumbs. Chill. Eat. Share. Enjoy.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com.

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