Earlier this week, we went to our first parent-teacher conference of the year for T. I love preschool parent-teacher conferences, don't you? They are always relaxing, and at T.'s school the teachers pull out their special padded regular chairs, so you don't have to fold your body into a chair made for people about three feet tall. You sit there, in the sunny and cheerful classroom, and hear (usually) nothing but good things: cute anecdotes about how your child is learning her letters, or mastering the art of scissor cutting, or learning to share. I always look forward to the preschool conferences, since even the small worries we might have are often put to rest quickly by all the good news we get about how brilliant and charming our child is.
On Monday, for instance, we heard that T. is very popular with all the kids and, because she is the smallest girl in her class, everyone looks out for her and wants to be her one and only true Best Friend. We heard that she is an eager learner and loves school, and that she tries hard and loves her Spanish class most of all. We also heard that she's "strong-willed" and sometimes has trouble listening--none of this was news to us, of course, believe me (I hope four is the peak of the strong-willed stuff--until she hits fourteen, that is). At a preschool conference, your main job as a parent is to sit there and beam in pride at the praise being leveled at your child. In a preschool, mild criticisms become charming, somehow--and being strong-willed isn't so much a vice, really, when you think about it. Both Scott and I think that trait will serve her well, even though it IS a maddening quality in a four-year-old.
Something happens, though, when your child hits elementary school. I remember that our first parent-teacher conference, when L. was in kindergarten, was still a positive, warm, touchy-feely type of experience. We learned that he was a "good friend" and liked to read, but even then there were little warnings--he had trouble sitting still, trouble with letter formation, trouble interacting with his peers in circle time or in organized activities. Since that first conference, meeting with his teachers and the school staff has increasingly been all business--back-and-forth discussions, sometimes a little tense, other times frustrating, painful, and rarely rewarding in the old sense. Maybe our experience is a little different, given the challenges L. faces in school, but from what I hear from other parents, the ease and charm of preschool conferences definitely wanes as the years go on. Gone are the days when we could sit back and smile and glow with pride at the praise being piled upon our child. I miss the old days, when conferences were fun. I thought about how much I missed those days when I mentally compared T.'s conference on Monday with one we had last week with L.'s teachers. That was a decidedly tense affair; there were no comfy chairs, and we had to cram ourselves into hard metal chairs while the teacher sat back in HER comfy seat.
So if you have a preschooler now, soak up those conferences. Enjoy those 15 minutes in the soft chairs, in the sunlit classroom with the ABC rugs and the dress-up corners; cherish those days when you can rest assured that the instincts of your child's good and kind teachers are the only measurement of her progress--I know we will.