We braced for bad news, not because we thought it deserved, but because history had taught us to expect the unexpected. You may have learned similar lessons. As it was my wife and I walked across the schoolyard on a warm fall day, and talked about the parent-teacher conference that we were headed toward.
“He is an interesting combination of goofy and shy,” I said. “I wonder which one we will discuss today.”
“And he tends to fidget,” she answered. “Plus, he takes longer to complete his work than most kids because he is so meticulous. He gets frustrated by anything that isn’t his best.”
“It can all be spun so many ways,” I replied, and then we walked into the classroom slightly unsure and swallowing our pride.
The class was arranged in tidy fashion and his fourth grade teacher welcomed us warmly. We took our seats at the table and began deconstructing our son.
His grades were high and his academics higher. His potential was there for the taking.
We talked of the things that drive him, and those that cause him fear and doubt. The black and white was streaked in shades of gray.
His teacher offered constructive criticism without passing judgement on our child, or us by association. She was positive and pleasant, and the conversation soon found us at ease and much more comfortable than we had been in school years past.
It made me feel somewhat foolish for having had my guard up, and yet it was learned like most things are. I think it only natural to be prepared for the offensive after previous experiences had left our defense so open and exposed.
Only once in his previous years of schooling had we felt like the teacher was talking about the same boy that we dropped off every morning. He is not perfect by any means, but other teachers often painted problems in places where solutions were surely available. They mistook his boredom over work far too easy as an indifference to learning. They took his shyness as a lack of spirit. They demanded conformity where we encouraged his freedom from it. Frankly, it was heartbreaking.
We watched his sweetness sour as it was slowly squeezed from him, and the shoulders of a boy that believed what he heard began to sink beneath the world and words heaped heavy upon him.
His mother and I did what we could to meet the demands of a system set on testing over learning—where knowledge means less than scores, and the only rewards are fodder for funding. We helped when he needed it and encouraged him when he didn’t. It was equal parts dents and armor.
This is the baggage we carried into a fourth grade parent-teacher conference, and it wasn’t fair to anybody. We left in laughter and feeling all the lighter.