Parent teacher conferences are a unique moment in the year – a truly special, and sacred, space for parents and teachers to come together. We come together for these special moments next Wednesday and Thursday, and I wanted take a moment to frame these conferences in context, as well as a few words on how to prepare for them as parents.
Children have, over the course of the past several centuries, been increasingly removed from adult life and even from family life. Painting history here with incredibly broad brush-strokes, for nearly all of human history young children stayed physically close to their primary caregiver until they developed enough skills to be self-sufficient in their daily tasks. Shortly thereafter, they were transitioned rapidly into the adult world through a process of apprenticeship. There was certainly no nursery school, no place that pre-skilled children would inhabit outside of the home without their mother or caretaker. However, for about the past two hundred years, children have increasingly inhabited what Phillip Aires, a historian of childhood, calls “confined spaces.” Children have become, for better or worse, separated from families at younger and younger ages, and placed into age-banded peer groups in school settings.
What all of this leaves you as a parent with is a feeling of, “I wonder what on earth she is doing in there?” This is both an exhilarating feeling, as we are proud of the new experiences and relationships that our child will find in the “confined space” of the classroom, and also an uneasy feeling, as we wonder if she will be OK, if her peers will treat her nice, and if she will eat her lunch! I still recall a few years ago sitting in the Common Space with a mother who had just left her child’s 2s classroom for the first time. As she sat half-laughing and half-crying, she blurted out, “It’s just that I don’t know what he’s having for snack in there! And I’ve never not-known that before!” For all of its wonders and benefits, the entrance into nursery school represents a major fissure in the young child’s world. Suddenly and irreparably, their world is cleaved in two. They now have home and family, and school and teachers. And only rarely does one world peek into the other.
Your parent-teacher conference next week is our opportunity to share with you the child we have gottento know – to show you who your child is when he walks through our door. Likewise, it is also an opportunity for us to get to know who the child is at home – you may hear your teachers asking, “Is that something you see at home?” As we all know, our children can show quite different behavior patterns and skills at school then they do at home. In this sense, conferences are a sharing of two contexts – home and school – that are so rarely in contact.
So I ask you, if you hear something from your teachers next week that doesn’t sound like your child, don’t explain it away or react defensively – listen earnestly to who your child is when she is with us, and then share with your teachers who your child is when she is with you. And know that more than anything, our goal is to share with you a true portrait of who we see in our classroom. Conferences are sacred because they are a rare window into how another adult truly sees your child, and how your child behaves and expresses himself when you are not around. We cherish these moments with our parents, as we get to create a bridge from school to home.
Lastly, I ask that you take these conferences as seriously as our teachers do. They have been preparing for these conversations practically since the first day of school, and have been diligently recording their observations and documentation of your child. As I shared in a note on this topic last year, we hope that our parents prepare as well. Jennifer Lahey, in her fantastic book “The Gift of Failure”, offers some very helpful tips. Among others, she recommends:
Show up at school with an attitude of optimism and trust
Project an attitude of respect for education
Let teachers know about big events unfolding at home
Find opportunities to express gratitude
Begin with the assumption that you have an interest in common – the student
Remember that truth often lies between two perceptions
You can read a brief excerpt from her book here to see more of her recommendations. They are each excellent. I ask that you show up ready to listen, take notes, and ask questions. And afterwards, I encourage you to write a quick note of thanks to your teachers. Notes like these drive teachers forward, and I can guarantee you, are all held on to for years to come. Your gratitude fuels your teachers.
Please reach out if you have any questions in advance of, or after, your conference. We are excited to welcome you each to school next week.
Please note: School is closed for rooms 1, 7, and 8 on Wednesday November 16; school is closed for ALL classrooms on Thursday November 17. While we do not formally offer child care during conferences, if you find yourself in a bind, of course please do reach out to myself or Shari and we will do our best to make someone on our team available for your child during your conference.
For more on the proposed re-zoning, see this Letter from Chancellor Farina about the DOE proposal.
Thank you to the many of you who sent appreciative emails for the election resources this week. I wanted to share one more letter.
From Tovah Klein, Director, Barnard College Center for Toddler Development
Dear Parents- Many of you have reached out by email and Facebook with questions about your children. I wrote a piece this morning and hope that it will provide some guidance.
BEING THERE FOR OUR CHILDREN
Parents are asking how to help their children on this day when the election is over and many of us are left in disbelief. This piece is not only for toddlers, but for older children as well.
Our children need us, now more than ever. Not only are many of us devastated, but the unknown of what will be is also frightening. These are dark days, folks, but children need light. They are our future. They count on us to be their light.
I am a bit at a loss for words and will work on writing more but for now, here are thoughts on being there for our children:
Our children need to know they are safe. That the president can't hurt them. That we don't always win, but then we get up and move on and we are ok (says this Cleve Indians fan). Remind them of a time when they were sad, or upset and what you did to help or comfort them, and then they were ok again. Your toddlers need this message over and over again. That they are safe and you will keep them safe. Older children will need to hear it, too.
They need to know that we will still take care of them, that school will still be school with their friends, fun and teachers. That they will still play outside and have fun with you. That you will cook them dinner and sing them bedtime songs, like you always do. That their lives will be okay even if you do not like your president.
They need to know that there are good people in their lives and the world. Name them- from grandparents to friends to neighbors to the store clerk they know and teachers. There are more good people in the world than bad and we need to remember that. People will work for change and all of them will continue to bring on good.
Listen to their questions. Listen. Don't over talk them- and answer them at their age level (not your adult level). This is especially true for elementary and older children. My 12 year old asked if Trump could hurt our family directly (this was at 6PM, long before the results). He was worried, and I assured him no, no he can't. He will need this reassurance again, I am sure. And so will your children when they ask.
Depending on the age of your child, especially if they are older, you can discuss ways to give back. Can you be part of a food or book drive? Volunteer at a nursing home? Send a card to someone who is sick or you miss? Get groceries for a neighbor. Or something that resonates for your child. They need to feel like they have the ability to be part of the good. We all do.
Monitor yourself. Many people will have some hard days and weeks ahead. Your children feel your stress acutely. Keep conversations away from the little ones and monitor what you are saying around or to your older children. Older children and teens may want to talk. Listen first, and talk. Provide reassurance.
Yes, this is shocking and dark for many of us. But we have the collective ability to keep our children safe and work for positive change. I am certain we all will.
Thinking of all of you,