As a public high school teacher for thirty-six years, I was required to participate in parent-teacher conferences twice a year. For most teachers, such conferences were generally regarded as, at best, moderately useful, and, at worst, a complete waste of time. Such an attitude was the result of an accepted axiom that the parents teachers did not need to see, the ones with successful students, always showed up, while the parents whom the teachers needed to see, the ones with underachieving or disruptive students, never showed. Exceptions were rare.
But there was a third group of parents, although small in number, whom I always found sadly amusing. These were the parents who were totally shocked to learn that their child was failing my class or close to doing so. The following was a typical conversation that would ensue once I gave them the bad news:
Mrs. Jones: I had no idea Johnny was failing. He never told me he was having difficulty. I wish you would have contacted me before now.
Me: I mailed you a progress report three weeks ago.
Mrs. Jones: I never saw it.
Me: Perhaps Johnny intercepted it before you saw it. Did you ever ask to see his homework?
Mrs. Jones: He said he never had homework.
Me: And you believed him? He had at least three written assignments and one vocabulary test each week in my class. So this past marking period he had twenty-seven assignments and nine tests. He completed only six written assignments and passed only four tests. That’s why he is failing.
From this point on, the dialogue would go in two possible directions. The parent would either insist that I had failed in my duty to inform her (keep in mind that we are talking about high school students), or she would promise that Johnny would be a model student beginning the very next day.
The point is that parents have no excuse not to have at least a general idea about their child’s grade in each and every class. If they don’t, they simply do not care or are willing to believe whatever their child tells them. And even this second possibility is a form of parental negligence.
So a word to the wise parent: When your child tells you that he or she is doing well in all classes or that there never is any homework, remember the words of Ronald Reagan–“Trust but verify.” By doing so, you will avoid much grief.