So Parent-Teacher conferences were this past Thursday evening and this Friday. Often, I find these conferences to be extremely frustrating, because the parents I most need to see--whose homes I've called multiple times (often with no answer), to whom I've sent letters repeatedly--rarely make an appearance. When I wrote about this last spring for a Teaching Ahead round-table on the topic of parental involvement, I got a lot of flak from readers who felt I was being insensitive; some of these families, the readers pointed out, are in crisis (homelessness was the main issue mentioned by readers of the Teaching Ahead blog) which prevent them from attending either the Thursday evening or the Friday afternoon conferences.
I've realized, after nearly a decade in the Bronx, that there are crises facing low-income families that I cannot even imagine. Nevertheless, I also think the importance of the parental role in student success simply cannot be over-emphasized, and that whenever possible, parents really MUST try to attend conferences, or arrange an alternate time at which they can come visit their child's school. Parents are kids' first teachers. They instill family literacy and reading practices, and they set the tone for whether education will or will not be valued in their homes. The best students in the school almost always have parents or guardians at conferences, and it's this level of concern--not just meeting teachers, but checking homework, keeping up with students' grades, supporting achievements and addressing weaknesses--that helps make their children the scholars they are. By doing these things, they send a powerful message: "What you're doing at school is important." It's a message that teachers simply cannot send to them alone.
When I started writing this post, I had more to say about parental involvement and conferences, but then I lost power in the storm, and now--24 hours later--it somehow seems remiss not to mention Hurricane Sandy when that's all anyone in the area has been thinking about over the past three days. New York City Schools have been closed since Monday, and will be closed again tomorrow. It's rare that school gets closed even one day in New York City (last year, there were no closures the entire year), and three days in a row is unprecedented, at least in the time I've been in the system. This morning I walked 70 blocks north with a friend in order to get into an area with electrical power, which gave me a view of some of the damage--however, I wasn't anywhere in downtown Manhattan or on the shores of Staten Island or Queens, which have been besieged by flooding. There are no subways running (though the MTA has managed to get some buses back online)--hence, limited possibilities for me or for the majority of our students to get to school--so it's anyone's guess when school can get into full swing again.
Still, when I made it home to check my email today, I found five emails from students, asking questions ranging from "Do we have school tomorrow?" to "Did I turn in my project last week?" to "Can you write me a recommendation for college?" I was oddly glad to get these emails--it seemed to indicate that a return to normalcy wouldn't be too far away.