Friday, November 19, 2021

Remote Parent Teacher Conferences

In COVID times, so much is new, and so much is odd. It's not actually a bad idea to do parent conferences remotely. There's nothing I can tell parents face to face that I can't tell them on a Zoom conference. For me at least, as I come in ridiculously early, it saves me the trouble of driving home much later than I'd like. It was  a plus that we were off on Veteran's Day after a night of conferences.

I teach the same group of students in various different classes this year, so I had very few actual conferences. When you teach newcomers, parents are reluctant to come in. If my students have issues with English, their parents almost certainly have even more. The older you are, the longer it takes to learn a language, and the more difficult it is. We're programmed to learn language as children, and the older we get, the more that program deteriorates.

Last year, I was utterly demoralized by teaching remotely. I'm not saying it was a bad idea. Safety and health trump absolutely everything. Without the vaccine, the risk of coming into school was absolutely unacceptable. Before the vaccine, no one at all should have come in. 

But you have to get used to online instruction. The thing I never got used to was seeing the cat icons in lieu of my students. That's because, for many of them, I'd call their names and get no response, ever. It's not hard to imagine a teenager turning on a computer to simulate attendance, then turning the sound down and going back to sleep, or playing a video game, or going to the park or doing any number of things.

One advantage you have when you're in person is you can say, hey, wake up. Or hey, you can't sit and text during class. Taking it a step further, you can actually view student work and make specific suggestions to improve it. I always figure that's what they pay me for. 

So when you're online, it's frustrating. You're relegated to be the teacher who sits at the desk, reads the paper, or muses about the vagaries of existence. All you can do is sit there. I did do a few other things. My faithful dog sat with me every moment I taught, and I petted him a lot. Sometimes I picked him up, especially when he was barking. That sometimes stimulated conversation, always good in a language class.

Anyway, I was pretty shocked to have a parent come for a conference and not turn on the camera. I spoke to some colleagues who saw the same thing. I find that extremely rude. It's one thing for a kid who just woke up to not want to show herself, but quite another for an adult to sit behind an icon. I found it bizarre, as did others. 

A colleague told me when that happened to her, she said, "I can't see you," and the parents instantly turned on their cameras. I wish I had thought of that. Of course, the parents who came to see me were likely timid because of their lack of English ability, and that may have hindered their willingness to participate.

In the case of people who can handle English, IMHO, it's outright rude not to show your face. I couldn't imagine not showing mine. Were that the case, we could simply conduct conferences via email. A lot of my colleagues who were slammed would be happy with that. You wouldn't have to worry about the parents who insist on staying longer than their allotted time.

I thought students, except in extreme cases, should have been required to show themselves on camera last year. I think parents, if they expect you to speak with them, should at least reciprocate in showing their faces. It's common courtesy, alas, the least common of all.

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