the seven stages of parent-teacher conference panic

Jafta had his first parent-teacher conference of first grade this week.  The teacher planned the conference pretty far in advance, so it was nearly a month ago that she sent home the schedule with the tentative times for the conference.  I noticed pretty quickly that while every kid in the class appeared to be schedule for a 30 minute conference, it appeared that the time slot directly after Jafta’s conference had been blocked out.   Jafta’s conference was the second conference of the day (at 9:30 in the morning) so the schedule gave the impression that perhaps she had set aside a full hour for Jafta’s conference.  I noted this fact with mild curiosity, and then with a little bit of alarm.  By the end of the day, I had worked myself into a DEFCON-5 level freak-out.  Here’s a little outline of how it went down:



DENIAL

Surely this doesn’t mean anything.  Jafta is FINE.  Why would we need an hour?  If she thinks something is wrong, then she is crazy.  It’s probably a typo.  It would be ridiculous for Jafta to be struggling and for us to not have noticed.  I mean, he can keep up with the homework . . . right?  Sure, we don’t always finish it perfectly but she said it wasn’t that important!  Naw.  He’s fine.  Totally fine.

RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION

But seriously, why do we need an hour for this conference?  This is about the homework, isn’t it?  I mean, if you say the oral presentations are optional, then you can’t ding a kid if he chooses not to do them.  I don’t even believe in homework!!  She’s lucky he turns in anything at all!  I mean, there’s a whole book about the research against homework.  She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.  I’ll go in there with the literature and explain why it’s not important.  We are focusing on more important things in this family.  Like music lessons and family time and dance parties in the living room.  He needs time to be a kid, not a pushy teacher who is going to hassle me over a couple worksheets he failed to turn in.  And the reading log?  Pshaw.  We read every night!  I don’t have to write down every book just to prove it to his teacher. 

ANGER

If he’s struggling, it’s got to be the teacher’s fault.  I mean, he is there 6 hours every day!  He wasn’t struggling last year.  He did just fine.  We never needed an hour-long conference with that teacher!  There must be something wrong with the classroom management for him to have fallen so behind that he needs an hour-long conference.  And also, if she thinks he’s behind, it’s probably because she’s making snap judgments.  She hasn’t taken the time to really assess his skills.  His work may be sloppy but he gets the concepts!  He tested two grades ahead in tutoring this summer.  She doesn’t know what she’s talking about if she thinks he has academic problems!  She’s probably not familiar with sensory processing disorder.  She’s doing that thing that the early intervention people did, where they are unable to see the advanced cognitive skills because they are too focused on the fine motor issues.  I need to educate her on sensory processing disorder.  She’s totally pegged him wrong.  So his handwriting is messing . . . that doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand the concepts!  Ugh.  I’m gonna have to give her a piece of my mind if she thinks he is anything less than totally brilliant.

SELF-LOATHING

This extended conference and whatever it means is all my fault.  It’s probably because I’m a working mom.  This wouldn’t be happening if I home-schooled.  Which I don’t, because clearly I am selfish and don’t care about my child.  I should be checking in on his homework with more care.  We need to read more together!   A few books a night is clearly not enough.  I should probably quit my job so I can devote more time to his homework.  He’s struggling this much and I didn’t even know about it?  What kind of a mother am I? 

DEFENSIVENESS

No.  Wait.  I have FOUR FREAKING KIDS.  Lots of mothers work.  I cannot do it all.  I shouldn’t have to homeschool him AFTER he comes home from school every day.  We have provided him with all the right things, and also, he has an active schedule with music lessons and sports and karate.  If she thinks I’m a bad mom she has another thing coming.

GRIEF

He’s probably going to fail first grade.  That’s what this hour-long meeting is about.  HE’S FAILING.  They are going to hold him back, and probably give him an IEP, and he will be forever scarred by this, and then he will have low self-esteem about academics and drop out of high school. 

PROBLEM-SOLVING

I am not going to let him fail first grade!!  I’m going to start googling private schools.  I tried my best at public education but clearly it is failing my son.  He would thrive in a better environment.  Kembe and India are doing great at Montessori.  I will just switch him over there.  Or homeschool.  But in the meantime, in these weeks leading up to the conference?  His homework is gonna be PERFECT.  And he’s gonna do only educational games on the ipad from here on out.  No more Angry Birds.  No more free play.  He’s gonna turn in a freaking presentation every day, if that’s what this teacher wants but isn’t directly saying.  We are reading together for an hour every night.  By conference time, the teacher will see that we are doing the best we can.  Either that, or I’m switching schools.

. . .

Now, you might be reading the above and thinking to yourself, WOW.  That’s quite a rabbit trail to go down based on some conjecture about an  unconfirmed, potentially longer parent-teacher conference.  You might be wondering if I over-reacted just a tad.  And my husband would mightily agree with you.  But, you see . . . I’ve taken catastrophizing to a whole new level.  I’ve made an art-form of it.  I can take the smallest shred of damning evidence and turn it into a nightmare of epic proportions within mere minutes.  This is such a fun quality for me to live with.  It’s fun for everyone around me, too.

So this morning, I showed up to the conference, breathing through my anxiety and trying to mask my lack of sleep.  I braced myself for whatever difficult news she may have for us.  And then, I had a 30-minute, run-of-the-mill parent teacher conference.  Jafta’s doing just fine.  He’s way ahead in reading comprehension.  His handwriting is a little sloppy.  He is kind and compassionate.  Sometimes he gets distracted and fidgety.  Her overall assessment of him was pretty much spot-on.  There was not a single subject on his report card in the “needs improvement” category.  The teacher was charming and encouraging and even seemed to wave away my concerns about his messiness and lack of attention to detail.  He’s a boy! she said.  We went over his work, she assured me he’s doing well, and that was that.

And then she went and had a coffee break during that second half hour . . . I guess?  Who knows what that block of time was about, beyond a catalyst for my anxiety to seed and fester.  I walked out and texted my husband that I had just freaked out over nothing.  And he pretended that he hadn’t already told me that.

 

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Later in the day, I told Jafta that I’d met with his teacher, and asked him what he thought she had said in our meeting.  “She said that I’m doing great,” he guessed.  So, to summarize.  Jafta is doing great . . . and mommy is still a head case.




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