On missing parent-teacher conferences.

I’m a teacher and tonight was parent-teacher conferences. I’ve worked in urban school districts for more than a decade and have led 21 parent-teacher conference nights which amounts to somewhere around 400 conferences.  Tonight I had 5 no shows, which isn’t unusual. I’ve never had a year where I got 100% right off the bat. It usually takes a lot of phone calls and rescheduling and more phone calls… and there is a lot of frustration involved.

As a teacher and a parent, I am quick to get judgmental. Who misses their child’s conference?! Who responds that they will attend and then doesn’t show up?! Who shows up to their kid’s conference reeking of weed?! WHO DOES THAT?!

My kids’ families do. And it frustrates the hell out of me. Seriously. I work so hard with these little kids. I worry about them and tailor centers for them and hold them when they cry because they are living in the homeless shelter and they are tired and scared. WHY AREN’T THEIR PARENTS HERE?!

Except.

Except.

I always come back to this thought: Once, these parents were little kids. Their teachers held them and worked late nights to meet their unrelenting needs and their parents didn’t show up for their conferences either. Their teachers didn’t blame them for the parents’ no shows. They were just little kids.

And then they grew up.

And had kids.

And repeated the cycle.

This is what gets me. We don’t blame kids for all of the societal norms they lack. We say, “They aren’t being taught this stuff. No one is modeling for them.” But we do blame their parents… who were once those kids.

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My logical husband says, “You have to be held accountable at some point, Sara,” and he’s right. He’s completely right. It’s just that I need that reminder- that visualization of my kids’ parents as kids themselves- because otherwise I am too quick to anger. There is a fuzzy grey line at which point we stop excusing kids for what they didn’t learn and start blaming them for it as adults. It is utterly depressing, but it centers me. It reminds me that, despite the need to hold parents to a high standard, there is always enough grace to go around.

I am doing what I can in my classroom, but so many of my kids are just missing out on someone outside of the classroom to show them that there are alternatives. I listened to a This American Life podcast recently that addressed the disparity between children in poverty and children born into the middle/upper class by following the post-high-school years of students from a low-income school who did an exchange with students from a wealthy school. You don’t know where to aim if you don’t know your possibilities.

My plea? Help our kids, please. Mentor. Volunteer. Pray. Vote for bills and millages that support education. Big Brothers/Big SistersKids Hope, and Communites in Schools are all programs I’ve seen first hand make a deep impact. Take a kid under your wing from church. As frustrated as I can get with my families, I love them. They are doing the best they can with what they’ve been given and, despite the fact that many of us would score them sub-par at best, they were kids once. Their kids need something to aim for so they make sure they don’t miss conferences when they’re grown. And, as a reminder to you as much as to myself, try to remember that those adults who seem like they are falling so sadly short of the needs of their kids were kids once too. There is enough grace. I promise.

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