Parents, teachers and fourth-grade intrigue

You may have noticed a recent article in the newspaper about how best to survive a parent-teacher conference. You know the drill – show up, remain calm, plan ahead, keep an open mind…

Unfortunately, these well-intentioned articles all too frequently are aimed at the people who are going to be least affected by the outcome of an after-school chat – the parents.

After all, parents are simply going to be advised of the problem if a student’s pet horned toad keeps getting loose in Mrs. McKenna’s fourth-grade classroom. The roaming reptile’s young owner, however, is the one who’s likely to lose custody of his scaly, pop-eyed pal.

If, during a parent conference, a teacher decides more homework is in order, it’s the student, not the parent, who’s going to be laboring under the burden of all the extra work.

Let’s face it, if anybody needs help getting through (or around) parent-teacher conferences, it’s the reluctant subjects of those conferences.

I still remember the terror with which my schoolmates and I anticipated parent-teacher conferences.

Throughout elementary school, I ran with a trio of ne’er-do-wells collectively known as the King boys. We made an honest effort to behave during school – sometimes for 15 or 20 minutes at a time – but our good intentions usually unraveled.

We never carried guns or blew up the science lab, but in those innocent days spitwads, contraband bubble gum and unauthorized yo-yos were considered felony offenses. And parent conferences meant all of our sins were about to be dredged up and our good intentions forgotten.

Although we had no helpful newspaper articles to guide us, we did develop several desperate strategies we hoped would get us safely past parent-teacher conferences.

One marginally effective technique was simply trading parent-teacher conference slips with each other. Thus the eldest King boy would have one of his parents go to youngest’s classroom and I would misguide my parents to the middle King boy’s teacher and he would send one of his parents to my classroom.

I think this almost worked once, but since we were all about two years apart, our parents eventually caught onto the fact that the 12-year-old King brother probably shouldn’t still be in the third grade. My parents were also perplexed by the fact that my alleged teacher kept calling me Larry.

It also became apparent that no matter how deftly we switched parents and conference appointments, most of us were usually in trouble for something and no amount of juggling was going to save us.

I was in trouble for pitching a wet, malodorous sponge across the classroom one afternoon, but Larry was already in hot water for pretending to be a space invader by placing a wastebasket over his head and terrorizing all the second-graders. And Reb, the eldest King brother, was facing disciplinary action for graffiti unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. Only the youngest King brother, affectionately known as Goose, was relatively free from sin.

Being young geniuses, we decided we could probably send all of our parents to Goose’s parent-teacher conference and somehow escape unscathed.

Did it work?

If you have to ask, it’s probably about time for your next parent-teacher conference – and pay attention this time…

Originally published April 1, 2001