Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Interrogate the Teacher

Monday marked my daughter's entry into 4th grade.  I love elementary school and I love the rituals that reach out to parents.  At my daughter's school, every parent has a conference with the teacher to pick up the 1st nine weeks report card. I would love to replicate that in high school for freshman.  I just can't wrap my head around how to do it with approximately 700 ninth graders.  But the ritual that I love most is "Meet the Teacher" or something that I like to affectionately call "interrogate the teacher" happens the week before school starts.

The first stop, the classroom library.  Is it hefty enough for students? Not rigorous, but enough books for readers to enjoy all genres and levels--- picture books, poetry, graphic novels, nonfiction and middle grade fiction favorites.   Yes, there is always the media center, but I believe that students should have access to plenty of books in the places that they spend the most time.  My child will be spending 180 days in this room.

I tell the teacher that I have concerns about AR. I don't hand her the research. I just let her know that we read for school, obligatory reading, and we read for pleasure. We are lucky when school and pleasure reading coincide. I consider AR obligatory reading and another way that we overtest students. I let her teacher know that we like to set a reachable AR goal. I have nightmares from my daughter's first experiences in kindergarten with AR where I would find her burrowed under the blankets with a flashlight at 5 am "studying for her AR test."  This elementary school like many in this district relies on AR as a way to ensure kids are reading nightly.  They don't go overboard with tangible rewards and celebrations and so it is a mildly tolerable experience. I just don't want my daughter to get the message that we read for rewards and grades because she and I read for fun and escape every night, not just for school.

I look through the textbooks.  What are they studying this year?  An overview of physical science...we will do some labs at home and add some science books to our library pick-ups. Florida history....sounds like some side trips are in order just not to St. Augustine where she spends family time and a field trip there is on her fourth school to-do list.

Not all of my questions are answered as other parents wander into the room. I am still left wondering about her as a writing teacher.  It is the last year of FCAT 2.0 Writing and PARCC looms in the horizen. How will she balance teaching persuasive and argumentative writing? Actually I am more concerned with how she will nurture my daughter as a writer, mathematician, scientist, and historian?  Many of my questions will be answered as assignments come home. 

I will ask questions about the purpose of assignments. I will ask for the data that I know in my role as reading coach is available, but is not shared with parents unless they ask.  I will also not try to make too many waves. TKs can be put under a microscope and not be free to make mistakes that other kids make.  I've seen it with freshmen students that I've taught. I want to find something to love about her teacher because I want my daughter to continue to love learning and we are partners on that journey this year.


  1. Love that last line. Our beliefs and expectations show. We are living examples for our children in all that we do. I appreciate that you find the positive and mine it to maximize what is best in any classroom.

  2. Great writing,,,you must have had some good teachers!!!!

  3. You can come be a parent in room any day! We have the same feelings about AR and I work in a corporation that really pushes it. I like how you labeled it obligatory reading and pleasure reading.

    I also like the comment about the classroom library...having access to books in the places that they spend the most time. I couldn't agree more! We started out the year with a large class size. In order to make room, my co-teacher got rid of books! I just squished the desks together. My books are going nowhere but in my students' hands.

  4. You mentioned you'd like to figure out how to do this with ninth graders. Washington state does something similar at the high school level. Twice a year, we have student-led conferences. The student and parent(s) come in to sit with the teachers and the student leads the parent through his/her accomplishments/goals/grades/etc. with a portfolio collection that serves as the talking piece. Once a month, students meet in a special half-hour class with their conference advisor to make sure they're on track with their portfolio requirements. Also, the conferences take 2.5 long days of straight conferencing. No school. It's time-consuming, sure, but it's actually a pretty empowering experience for students and eye-opening experience for parents when done well.


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