Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Worst Parent-Teacher Conference EVER

Last Friday Audrey came home with a notice that there would be a parent-teacher conference on the following Tuesday.

This is the first thing that I hate. Why can't the school can't decide more than 2 days in advance that we all have to drop everything and be there in the middle of the afternoon? And in my case, dropping everything was impossible since I was signed up to teach a communications class for Sun. So we agreed Buddy would attend.

Now I have to tell you that in China, parent-teacher conferences consist of the teacher, you, and the parent of every other student in your child's class. So you've got 40 parents sitting in their kids' desks, and the teacher talking to them. And normally that's all it is - the teacher just talks to the parents. Tells them what they should be expecting this year, what they should look out for, etc.

But this parent-teacher conference was to be different.

Audrey's homeroom teacher, a 40-something male Math teacher, decided to give feedback to each parent about his or her child's intelligence. He went around the room parent-by-parent, and told them if their child was 'smart' or 'not that smart'. About 10% of the kids were 'smart' and about 25% were 'not that smart'. As for the other 65% it's anyone's guess. Maybe they're average. Maybe he has no opinion. Maybe he wasn't really paying attention.

Apparently his goal was to set the parents' expectations appropriately, so that they wouldn't be surprised or disappointed when their child's grades started to fall in later years. For that notion, I have 3 words: self fulfilling prophecy.

And where, you might ask, did my progeny fall on this teacher's scale?

'Not that smart'.

I am not even going to dignify his evaluation with a response.

Buddy told me the whole story that night after the kids went to bed. He was just as upset as I was. And God love him, he protested heavily against the teacher's judgment. To the extent that one of the other parents gently prodded him, probably after Buddy had been protesting for several minutes, that at a parent-teacher conference it might be interesting to hear what the *teacher* had to say.

I prayed for one thing as I fell asleep that night. "God please let the other parents show good judgment tonight. Please don't let them go home and tell their kids what they heard today. Please let these awful indictments stay in that parent-teacher conference, among the parents and teacher."

But God had other plans for me. Because sure enough, the next night at dinner Audrey said, "Why did you guys keep that secret from me?" We played innocent as best we could. But we're lousy actors and we were most certainly not innocent.

"What secret, honey?"

"That I'm not that smart."

Yep, sure enough. One of the parents told their kid, and the kid told Audrey the next day.

And the worst part is, she asked us why we didn't tell her that she isn't that smart. NOT - why didn't you tell me my teacher said I'm not that smart. But - why didn't you tell me I'm not that smart.

It breaks my heart. And I'm having a hard time controlling my anger at this teacher. I wish you guys could have seen this post before I deleted a whole bunch of words. It was spicy.

We've considered talking to the principal but a) he probably doesn't care and b) the damage is done.

If you have ever had a worse parent-teacher conference than this please tell me about it.


JuliaL said...

Hi Melanie, I am sorry for the damage to you and your girl. As an ex-Chinese student, I have to say that you just experienced a typical primary school Parent-teacher conference. When I was a little child, the teachers were even worse.

The Math teacher might be proud of himself since he provided individual instructions to some parents instead of speaking to a group.

In the other hand, I am envious of your daughter, since she has great parents. If my mother was told I am "not that smart" from my teacher. She would believe it without any doubt and tell me at the first time.

Feng said...

I suppose to see a change after I left primary school 20 years ago, but It seems that he just does what the older teachers did ...

Parents must do more efforts to defend kids' happy time in China ...


Forrest said...

That is a very bad teacher!

Ever 20 years ago, I know the teacher will not tell the parents their child is not smart. They could tell you that your child is not good at math, English or anything else. But they don't say 'you are not smart'. Children should never be divided into smart and not smart.

Forget it!

Melanie Gao said...

Thanks Forrest and MoonOcean and Feng for the insights. FWIW Audrey doesn't seem to be scarred by this experience at all. On the contrary, it seems like it made her stronger. That's probably because of all the good wishes she's getting from you.

Jocelyn said...

Melanie, I know my comment is super-late, but this is so disturbing to me. I cannot believe a teacher would have the audacity to do that. I told my husband about this and he thought it was totally unethical and immoral.

Is this a Chinese school your daughter attends?

Melanie Gao said...

Yes, it's a regular Chinese school. There are some advantages to be sure, and the occasional disadvantage, like this teacher's feedback.

Clifford Magnus Larsen said...

WOW. Is this what I have to look forward to in normal Chinese school? Unbelievable. I mean I know Dr. Seuss was told he wouldn't amount to much... but Audrey needs a good old fashioned encouraging from mom and dad. I can only imagine the argument in school, "NO MY DAUGHTER IS SMART!" and the Teacher yelled, "NO SHE IS NOT THAT SMART!!" Ah ya.

Unknown said...

Just found your blog today and was reading through the archives (it's very good, by the way!)
My boyfriend went to elementary school in China- his family moved to the U.S. when he was 12. This sounds a lot like what he's said about his experience. It's very sad, because he's a brilliant computer engineer, but he still has pretty much zero self confidence.
I think that it's a very good thing for your daughter, that you and your husband don't reinforce the message when her teacher says things like that. That kind of education doesn't sound very healthy...

Melanie Gao said...

Magnus you nailed the conversation my husband had with the teacher. I'm sorry I wasn't there to witness it in person.

Emily thanks for stopping by! I'm glad your boyfriend got out of the system when he did. It sounds like it wasn't the right one for him.

Unknown said...

As a teacher, I think this is absolutely horrible! As a foreigner living and teaching in China, I am ashamed to admit that it is not all that surprising to me. This country has a lot to learn in relation to education. I hope your little girl has worked to really show that ignorant teacher just how wrong he is!