Teachers and parents must communicate

November 23, 2004|EMILY TOADVINE

Libby and Jeff Joiner laughed as they looked at their first-grade son's story and drawing about swimming. Maybe a few of the words weren't spelled correctly, but that didn't upset them and neither did it bother his teacher, Elizabeth Stamps.

"He's reading phenomenally well," Stamps told the Joiners as they met with her on the stage of Jennie Rogers Elementary School for the first of two parent and teacher conferences scheduled for the school year.

Teachers at schools that require conferences say it is key to student success.

The Joiners are examples of parents who are active in their child's school, but for some parents the conference when they receive their child's report card is the first time they've set foot in the school since the year began.

Kathy Shewmaker, a third-grade teacher at Woodlawn Elementary School, says the 15 minutes allotted for touching base with parents is the most important reason to have a conference.


"Any time you have good communication with the parents and the children know, that tends to make them work harder because they know the parent cares and the teacher cares."

Despite Libby Joiner's insistence that Josh's handwriting had become sloppier, she and her husband mostly heard rave reviews about their 7-year-old.

Because of the papers that come home, the Joiners were not concerned about their child's academic success. With his recent confinement to a wheelchair because of a hip disease, they mostly were worried about how he was adapting to that change.

"He was so active and now he's had to stop in his tracks," says Libby Joiner, noting that Josh will outgrow his ailment.

In the meantime, the Joiners, who also have a 5-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, decided to divert Josh's attention by having him take piano lessons and learn Spanish.

"It's going to be our year of culture," Libby Joiner says.

Jeff Joiner agrees. "He's going to play our Christmas carols."

They've also gone out of their way to make sure Josh takes part in class activities and field trips. For a recent visit to the Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge, Jeff Joiner could not attend, but they knew Josh would need help on the trails. Libby Joiner recruited Jacob Moore, a Danville High School football player, to give him a piggyback ride.

"Not only did Josh not feel left out, but he was envied by the other boys," Libby Joiner says.

She appreciates the ways that the school has tried to help Josh adapt. For instance, they let Josh spend his recess time helping kindergarten pupils.

"I'm thrilled at how they thought outside the box," she says.

After their conference, the Joiners found Josh in the lunchroom and stopped by to visit. They eat lunch with him once a week. They immediately acted on the advice of Josh's teacher. She had recommended that Josh not worry about making a mistake.

"You can make a 90. You don't have to make a 100," his father told him.

A good way to keep communication open

Like the Joiners, most parents probably are aware of their child's academic progress, but the conference is a good way to keep the lines of communication open.

"I like parents to ask, 'What can I do at home to help my child be more successful in school?'" Stamps says. "And I want them to tell me what I can do at school to help him be a success."

Sometimes, the conference is a turning point for the child, Stamps says. For example, a couple of years ago a girl moved to Danville from a rural area in the North. The Danville school system was more advanced than her old school.

"We got the child involved in Reading Recovery and she greatly improved her reading skills."

Without meeting with that child's grandmother, Stamps might not have gotten the cooperation she needed at home.

"The conference got us on the same page. We all started working together."

As a teacher for 18 years, Stamps has seen the requirement of parent-teacher conferences come and go. The conferences were required after the 1990 education reform act as a way to get parents involved, she recalls.

At this point, the district considers the conferences worthwhile enough that substitutes are hired while the teachers hold their conferences. Stamps, who is blessed by having the small class enrollment of 13 pupils, says most of the parents make an effort to come.

"If a parent comes, it's a good parent-teacher conference. If they can't come, at least we can talk on the telephone."

If a parent does not respond to the conference request, Stamps usually sends a note asking if the parent prefers that the teacher come to the home. Usually, she will receive a phone call from the parent.

"We do everything we can because we realize people are working so hard," she says.

Woodlawn requires conferences

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