Back to School Night (well, sort of)

My wife and I just had Back to School Night (BTSN) for our 17-year-old son who is a junior.   The schedule was the same as in the past where parents follow their child’s daily schedule from Pers. 1 through 6 spending 10 minutes in each class.

Unlike in the past, it was a virtual BTSN from the comfort of our den.  Teachers had the option of holding a live Zoom meeting or posting a video.  Two of our son’s teachers had live sessions while the others videotaped their presentations.  Either way was fine with me.  A parent can easily get a glimpse of a teacher’s personality on tape or live. 

I found the live sessions stranger due to parents who chose to show themselves on camera with attention-diverting backgrounds distracting the rest of us.  The videos had more information allowing teachers to use more visuals economically, though one teacher displayed long blocks of text which she then proceeded to read each word out loud, not a good practice.

As a parent, I have always enjoyed BTSN, finding it exciting to meet the educators who will temporarily spend time with my child and help mold him into a more learned individual.

As a now former teacher, I can’t help but judge which teachers I think will connect with my son and which will not.  Not every teacher can connect with every child.

However, having done 11 weeks of distance learning, I recognize the challenges all teachers face in this anxious period of time in which we live.  We all have to be patient and have faith that in due time things will return to normal and children will return to school.  In the meantime, support your child’s teachers as much as you can.  Emailing a quick “thank you for teaching my child during these difficult times” can brighten a teacher’s day.

Bring Back Parent Conversations to Open House

Get ready for a new kind of Open House experience, where having a quick conversation with your child’s teacher is discouraged, replaced with exhibits of student work.

Hopefully schools are getting this message out to parents in order to dampen their disappointment when they approach a teacher to discuss their child’s progress and are informed to make an appointment at another day and time.

Traditionally public schools have invited parents to two evening events: Back to School Night during the first half of the year, and Open House during the second half.   Since Back to School occurs about a month after the start of school, its purpose is to introduce parents to their children’s teachers and the curriculum.

At the secondary level, parents follow a bell schedule marching from one room to another for 10-minute sessions.   It is deliberately controlled, allowing little time for parents to ask questions.

That’s where the role of Open House comes in (or used to be).   With the majority of the school year past the midway point, and progress reports sent home, this is the perfect time for a check-in on how a child is doing so that modifications can be employed to improve performance.

For schools to deny parents that opportunity is unfortunate.

Of course, school officials will tell you that all a parent has to do is arrange for a private conference with a teacher.

While that would be feasible for an elementary school teacher with 35 students, how about the high school teacher with 175? Arranging private meetings of that size would be daunting.

That’s the beauty of the traditional Open House. I have found that most parents just want to say a quick “hi” and ask how their child is doing. No need for a 30-minute conversation.

I am able to meet dozens of parents efficiently and thereby eliminate many time-consuming conferences and emails, making the event productive for all.

When I asked administrators in both Glendale and Burbank about the shift towards student exhibits and demonstrations, they privately told me that it is in the best interest of the teachers to avoid ambushes by parents.

To prevent that, schools are rebranding Open House as a showcase of student work, more of a public relations event. The concept of “selling” a school is sound, but it should occur at another time. For example, the Block Party hosted by Keppel Elementary, Toll Middle, and Hoover High Schools on a Saturday afternoon in April serves that function.

Parents attending Open House are already invested in that institution—no sales ploy needed.

Here is what I propose. Take those two pupil-free days when students stay home and teachers attend meetings and put it to good use by scheduling conferences with parents arriving at appointed times to pick up their child’s report cards and chat with one of their child’s teachers.

Elementary schools already do this. They take a whole week of shortened days and meet with parents in the afternoon hours to discuss grades. Usually the meetings last 15 minutes.

Since secondary teachers have a much larger workload, the meetings would have to be shorter but could still be meaningful. And it would provide parents with a sense that their concerns were heard.

So, parents, please don’t blame the teachers if they are hesitant to say a few words about your child, for while it is still called Open House, conversations are closed.