School Conferences and the Solo Mom

School Conferences and the Solo Mom

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These meetings can surprise, disappoint, and even make us laugh

Beth, Sherri, and Lish have each been married and single while parenting school-aged children. Each woman felt a difference in the way she was treated when she went from being part of a parenting couple to a single mom.

“I guess when you’re coupled up, they view you as a full household,” said Lish. “When you’re a single mom, I think that they think that you’re out for everything for free.”

“When you come in as a united force . . . I think they take you a little bit more seriously,” said Beth. “Like there’s some sort of parenting privilege.”

“When you’re a single parent, it’s almost like there is an elephant in the room,” said Sherri. “Is this information going to get to the other parent? I think sometimes there’s some discomfort with not even knowing how to approach that.”

When parent-teacher conferences are easy, the teacher says how much he or she enjoys having the parent’s child as a student in the class. The parent says how much her child enjoys being in the teacher’s class. When they aren’t easy, judgment and even despair may be felt on both sides. Often, a parent knows what to expect before it’s conference time. After all, who knows the child better?

Sometimes there are surprises

Beth, a Solo Mom and businesswoman with a vast network, went to her daughter’s conference knowing that her child had been confrontational with her teacher. “My daughter got sassy with her teacher, and it was inappropriate,” Beth said. “I could tell that even from my child’s point of view that what she’d said was very out of line.”

When Beth introduced herself to the teacher, she noticed that the teacher seemed to shut down. The teacher went straight to business, covering her daughter’s academic performance without alluding to any behavioral issues. Then, the teacher asked Beth if she had any questions.

“I couldn’t believe nothing was coming up about my daughter’s behavior,” said Beth. “So, I brought it up.” There was a long silence. The teacher pursed her lips as if she were looking for the right words.

“I’m not sure how I should say this.”

“Just spit it out.”

“Your daughter is very snarky. Maybe not snarky . . . snotty, sassy. She’s certainly not the easiest student I have ever had.”

Broaching the subject led Beth and the teacher to a conversation about different approaches to communicating with Beth’s daughter. “It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t brought it up,” said Beth.

Sometimes there is disappointment

It was the first year of the laptop program at the second school district D had attended. “We didn’t know a laptop was mandatory,” said Lish, D’s mom. “We didn’t have WiFi.” D was in ninth grade. She asked if she could do her homework on paper, and one of her teachers refused to accept any assignment this way.

McDonald’s was the only location close to home where she could use WiFi until her parents installed it at home. Her school was 20 minutes away. While at McDonald’s, D sent her homework to the teacher, and the teacher said he didn’t receive it.

In addition to lacking tech savvy, D struggled with comprehension. “Books worked better for her,” Lish said. At conferences, Lish talked to D’s teacher about the comprehension issue and the technology struggles. “That’s the policy now,” the teacher insisted. “All homework is turned in on the laptop.”

“The teacher didn’t get it,” Lish said. “[D] didn’t even want to go to school.”

It wasn’t the first time D had struggled with a teacher in school. In fourth grade, D’s struggles were intense enough for Lish to pull her out of the school district. “I think with the fourth-grade thing, she was younger, she was still able to maintain her grades. She just didn’t want to go to school,” Lish said. “In ninth grade, she failed classes.”

D finished her education at another high school. She now works as a teacher’s aide in a preschool and volunteers to work with children at her church. “She has a gift,” Lish said. College may be in D’s future.

Sometimes there’s a chuckle

“I believe it was when my daughter was in third grade,” said Sherri. “Conferences were running a little bit long. I was standing in the hallway, observing student artwork.”

One picture was of a boat on a lake with two figures fishing. On the picture was printed “My dad’s favorite thing to do is going fishing with me.” Sherri noticed another picture. It was of a bright-red drink. “I was petrified because I was worried it was my daughter’s.” She went closer to the picture and saw written on it in her daughter’s scrawl, “My mother’s favorite drink is the Bloody Mary.”

“It was a bright-red Bloody Mary with celery stalks coming out. I was like, I cannot believe they put this up,” said Sherri. “While I do like Bloody Marys, I really don’t have them all that often. Maybe we were at a brunch or something, and it must have had a big impression.”

Once Sherri introduced herself to the teacher, the teacher gave her a big smile. “I feel like I need to explain myself,” Sherri said.

“I promise not to believe everything I hear, if you promise not to believe everything you hear,” the teacher said.

Kim Zabel, who has worked on the other side as a teacher of students in grades five to eight, shared her thoughts on how conferences and teacher-parent communications could be improved. “Compassion,” said Zabel. “Parents should realize that teachers have the best interests of the student at heart. Teachers should realize that parents see their child as an extension of themselves. No one is completely right or completely wrong.” Her wish is for both sides to “meet in the middle, where everyone loves the child.”

Want more reading about solo parenting? Check out “Homework: Every Solo Mom’s Nightmare.”

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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