Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

An aha moment at parent-teacher conferences March 5, 2011

EVER SINCE OUR TEEN stopped accompanying us to parent-teacher conferences, my husband and I have felt more open to asking candid questions about him. Not that we’re trying to talk about him behind his back, but his absence certainly allows us to ask questions we probably wouldn’t ask in his presence.

He’s a great student, near the top of his class. He’s taking rigorous courses, earns straight As and scores exceptionally well on tests. In other words, academics are not an issue.

So, then, you might wonder why we even bother to attend parent-teacher conferences. First, it’s important to show our son that we care about his education.

Secondly, it’s important for his teachers to know we care and to connect with them.

Third, I want to know what he’s learning, because I certainly don’t hear that information from him.

I’ll qualify that, though, by saying that this time, when our 17-year-old was helping me with dishes the night before conferences, I asked for an academics primer. I wanted a list of the classes he’s taking, the names of his teachers and what he is currently studying. Surprisingly, he obliged and I felt better prepared for conferences.

Just a note. I could have pulled his course information from a file, but engaging him in conversation about school seemed the better alternative. Also, I wasn’t completely oblivious to his class schedule or assignments.

When my husband and I headed off to conferences on Thursday evening, I wasn’t sure exactly what information I wanted to glean from or exchange with his teachers. Last time we focused on his future—his main interests, career options and college choices.

This time, though, a conversation with a friend several days earlier niggled in my mind. We were discussing our sons, who are both wired with strong science and math brains. Neither one cares all that much about engaging in social activities. My husband and I have worried for some time about our teen’s lack of interest in socializing and minimal participation in extracurricular activities.

About now, if you’re the parent of a teen, you’re probably thinking, how lucky to have that “problem.”

Well, as parents, we want a well-adjusted teen.

We were reassured by every teacher we asked that our son is well-liked by his peers, participates in class and socializes, has a great sense of humor that they enjoy, loves to learn, etc. In other words, they alleviated our worries.

While talking with his journalism teacher, I had one of those aha moments. My son, I realized, is confident enough in himself that he doesn’t feel the need to conform, to give in to peer pressure, to be surrounded by a group of friends. All the while I’ve been focusing on the negative when I should have been focusing on the positive, seeing the strengths in his personality.

Not everyone is interested in sports or theater or music, etc. And just because we as parents, as educators, as a society, think every kid should be intensely involved in extracurricular activities, we must also accept and realize that not every teen wants to be so involved. Not every teen is a social butterfly outside of the classroom.

My son doesn’t think like most teens. That’s OK. But he’s strong, smart, confident, inquisitive and more. When he focuses on a task, he wants his efforts to be invested in a real project, with real results. He doesn’t want to do something just to compete, although when he competes he’s very competitive. I finally understand that about him.

It just took asking the right questions at parent-teacher conferences to get there.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling