Thursday, February 4, 2016

Parent/Teacher Conference

Another one of those strangely emotional nights for me.  Last quarter Emma had her worst quarter ever scholastically  Basically cratered.  I had decided at the beginning of this school year to approach this year with a "Your grade, your responsibility" philosophy with her.  Basically pulling back from helicoptering about and emailing teachers for missed assignments or requests for makeup work or retests or whatever in efforts to get Emma back to the grades that I...that WE (because Leslie and I both worked with her in the past) knew she could get.

Well...the fruits of that philosophy were...worst quarter ever.  EVER.  So of course I felt like a bit of a failure as a dad because this great experiment...this...take charge of your own work thing...which I really believe is ultimately the lesson she needs to learn...failed.  And it left Emma upset about her grades, and me pissed and frustrated about them too.

And the school called to arrange a conference...and I was like...well, fuck.  And I talked to Emma about it.  And as I talked, my voice did that thing that it sometimes does when I'm really angry or frustrated, and I heard my volume rising, and then Emma was crying and I was not letting my foot off the gas and...promises were made and hugs were given ultimately ended on a bit of a good note despite my lack of self control.

And I watched as the first two weeks of this quarter went by and her grades came in.  Up.  Across the board.  And I felt like she was trying.  And I felt like...shit...maybe this come to Jesus is something that should have been done months ago.

I didn't know what the conference's tone would be like.  It was scheduled a week after her grades for the second quarter were turned in.  The worst grades any of those teachers have ever seen Emma get.  So I was nervous about it.  I imagined the worst.  New friends.  Lower grades.  Have you considered that these might be signs of something else?  Mr. Walter, have you talked to your daughter about drugs? idea what I was walking into.

I had a prepared message.  Watch her.  She's already showing an upturn.  She wants this now.  It matters to

Instead I sat in a roomful of her teachers as they took turns telling me things about my daughter...

"She is lit from within"
"She gives so much to everyone"
"She advocates for herself"
"She understands how to talk to adults and explain when something is wrong"
"She is naturally talented"
"People are drawn to her and want to be with her."
"We can tell she's making a real effort"
"She's a hard worker"
"She's great.  We love Emma."

Those are things they said.  And more.  All the worries about whether she was taking her grades seriously...

"She asked to be moved to the front of the class so she could focus more."
"She emailed me an apology for not doing her best last nine weeks."
"When she falls she gets right back up"
"She's full speed ahead"

I always tell the people who care about me enough to listen that my worries about Emma are no less than my worries for Lily.  Just different.  And it is SUCH an irony to have to tell something like that to autism parents who adopt "different not less" as a battle cry.  Because many autism parents get...offended by neurotypical kids' parent's concerns about their kids.  "Oh wah...your daughter didn't get head cheerleader...MY kid can't eat without help!" As if having a special needs child means that our stress silences anyone else's stress or worry.  It's so stupid.  And I do get it at times...but man.  I've been worried about my little Emma.  And I get a free pass because I'm "in the club" but when I read the sentiment expressed...I cringe.  I can't relate.

And the teachers had concerns.  Of course they had concerns.  "When Emma turns in her homework, she shows that she understands the material.  But sometimes...she doesn't turn it in." And they shared that "almost there" frustration that I've been feeling.  That knowledge that she's got it.  She's smart.  She owns the material...but we can't grade her on it if she doesn't turn it in.

But I left feeling so...blessed.  So proud of her.  I make sure I tell her that especially after I've gotten done reaming her about something...that I'm proud of her.  That she makes me proud every day.  Certainly today was a noteworthy example of that.

I almost cried a dozen times during that half hour conference.  Tears of relief.  It's been so bottled up.  And when I walked out of the school into the parking lot to my car...I did cry a little.  Bittersweet tears.  Proud of Emma.  "You've done a great job with her," they said.  Leslie should have been here to take her bows too.  And that was the sad part.  The triumphs seem to cause me more grief than the stress does.  You did good, mommy.  She's going to be okay.

I told Emma when I got home.  She was relieved too.  I told her not to relax now that she knows the news is good.  She said she wouldn't.  I'm more engaged.  Still her grade her responsibility.  But I'm making myself more available for her.  Less treadmill...more study help.


  1. Thanks for sharing that, Jim, hugs to both you and Emma. You, Sir, are an inspiration to me and I'm sure so many others.

  2. Don't beat yourselves up over the grades. I had one that tanked during middle school through high school. She has since gotten her masters at NYU and was offered a PhD seat at UCLA. (She had a new baby so decided to postpone it.) The schools want you to think it might be the end of the world if the kids don't stay on their pace. It is not true. Some kids struggle all through school (more now than ever, possibly the result of NCLB and setting the grade standards up one full grade 12 years ago.) My colleagues have been warning this would be de-motivating for kids. With common core, there may be adjustments but the methods of teaching for math are much more efficient. (They will see the effects of the critical thinking at about age 11 when the kids start challenging THEM but that will be more fun for us!)

    If it is coming up on your wife's anniversary of her passing, it could be Emma is burying her feelings to protect you. It might not be an unwillingness to do the work. At this stage of development, it could be a LOT of other factors. Adding the loss to the heap may mean taking care of you and her will just involve a Dad and Daughter night out for connecting. I love that idea of less treadmill. (Then again, if you saw me, you would probably already know that! LOL)

    You are a good dad. Sometimes, you just need to relax and float for a little while to regenerate.

  3. You *are* blessed .. to have each other. Amen to so very much of this.