Today was the second day of parent-teacher conferences, a public school tradition which looks good on paper. Each conference is 5 minutes long, and we do a total of 10 hours of them. It’s mind-numbing to the extent that when a parent actually asks a probing questions, such as, “so how exactly should he be reading the text if he wants to improve his test scores?” you discover after two full minutes of b.s. that you haven’t actually answered the question, since it breaks the comfortable repetition you’ve been parroting all day, and you realize how like George W. Bush you actually are. It’s a scary, existential dilemma.
You attempt to start addressing the question, but you first have to segue from the b.s. to the answer that addresses the question with some sort of semi-b.s. transition. But you find that, since you haven’t fully extracted yourself from the b.s., the parent is beginning to think you’re a lot like George W. Bush. If you ever succeed in pulling yourself out of the mire by the time the five minutes is up, you still look like an idiot, since you danced around a question that, on a normal day, wouldn’t have been that difficult to answer. And then you discover that the next parents who enter the room have been listening in on the just-finished b.s. session, and are a little leary of the fact that you are teaching their child. Good stuff.
The most comfortable conferences are with parents whose children you’ve taught before and who are doing well in the class. It was in one such session that a mother told me about her older son, who, three or four years ago, wandered in to the writing lab and had me work with him on an essay. Evidently, I was very helpful, but this poor kid thought that I was a custodian. Upon returning home, he told his mom about the Good Will Hunting guy who helped him with his essay. He didn’t find out until a year or two later that I was actually an English teacher.