Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Meeting Points

At my daughter's old school, parent-teacher conferences were leisurely discussions of a wide range of topics, and, through these conversations, parents and teachers got to know each other better. The part I always found most interesting was getting a glimpse of my daughter's school-day interactions with teachers and classmates.

I was just perusing a handout about how parent-teacher conferences will be conducted at her new school. The new school is larger than the old one, and teachers have less time to meet with parents. I understand that, but I was nevertheless taken aback by being given instructions.

Parent-Teacher Conference Rules & Suggestions

1. Make a list of everything you want to talk about with the teacher before the meeting.

2. Arrive promptly or early so that the conference can begin on schedule.

3. Begin with positive comments about the teacher, class, or school.

4. Do not bring up topics that require lengthy discussion or that are not related to the purpose of the conference.

5. Be open-minded when the teacher makes suggestions.

6. Keep your emotions under control.

7. Take notes about what the teacher says about your child.

8. Thank the teacher and express your appreciation for the conference.

9. Do not stay beyond your scheduled time. Conferences cannot last more than ten (10) minutes without prior arrangement.

Most of these are reasonable. I suppose I was most taken aback by being told to compliment the teacher and/or school at the beginning and end of the meeting, and by the rigid 10-minute limit of the conference.

Even so, there is something to be said for being organized about these interactions. Perhaps I should adapt these rules for my office hours? How about the following:

Student-Professor Office Hour Rules & Suggestions

1. Be prepared for your visit with your professor. If you are going to ask questions, know what they are in advance. If you have written them down, know where this list is. If you are going to need a book or notebook or some other material (perhaps a writing implement?) during the meeting, have it out and ready so that your professor does not need to watch you rummage through your backpack.

2. Arrive during office hours (not before or after) or at another pre-arranged time. If you are going to be more than 7 minutes late for a specific appointment or are not going to show up, call.

3. Do not whine about how hard you are working and do not make insincere statements about how much you love the class, especially if you are asking for something (e.g. an A; more time on an assignment; a make-up exam).

4. Do not describe at length your personal life unless you have reason to think that your professor wants to hear about this. For example, if your professor says "How fascinating. Please tell me more about your ovarian cysts", you can feel free to discuss your medical experiences at length. If you launch into a description of your medical problems with no evidence that the professor wants to know the details of your problems, just give the relevant information. Professors can be quite empathetic people, but realize that a professor's idea of Too Much Information might be different from yours.

5. If your professor makes suggestions for how you might improve your understanding of course materials and/or improve your grade (e.g. attend class), it's a good idea to consider these ideas.

6. Keep your emotions under control if at all possible, especially if these emotions involve anger. It is OK to cry, as long as you aren't crying in order to acquire something (e.g. an A; more time on an assignment; a make-up exam).

7. Take notes about what the professor says if you think you might want to use this information for course-related activities (e.g. passing the class). If your professor has been scribbling notes and figures on scrap paper to help answer your questions, it's OK to ask if you can have the paper for future reference.

8. If you visit the professor during an appointment outside regular office hours because you couldn't attend the scheduled office hour and/or you need additional time and assistance, it's polite to thank the professor for his/her time, but the best thank-you is to be prepared, to listen, and to learn.


dr. dave said...

I agree with most of these except for one...

It is totally NOT ok to CRY!!

AsstFemaleProf said...

These are awesome. I totally want to include them with my syllabus - except I think it might (okay, it definitely would) effect my ability to get tenure.

ScienceWoman said...

Dr. Dave - you're flat out wrong.

FSP- These are great rules and I wish all students knew these. Would you mind if I distributed them in my freshman class next semester?

Female Science Professor said...

Feel free to use and modify as you wish (maybe rephrase the part about ovarian cysts).

Carrie said...

I find it really troubling that for all the talk of wanting parent involvement in school, that you are held to a 10 minute time slot for a conference. You can't accomplish much more than introductions in that time period. My kids conferences are 20 minutes, and those are too short. There's gotta be a better way.

Anonymous said...

Some FPs here think it's ok to cry, but they fail to see this from a MP (male professor) perspective.

What do you think goes through other people minds when they see a student walk out of your office distraught and crying? Here's what they think: at best that, that you are a heartless bastard, at worst, that you tried to force your way on her.

So no, crying is not ok (neither is shouting, from either party). Keep things professional.

Female Science Professor said...

Students are going to cry whether it's OK with you or not. There's no point in making them feel worse for crying.

If I saw a crying student coming out of a professor's office (MSP or FSP), I would assume that the student got a bad grade or had a family crisis.

landsnark said...

FSP, thanks so much for posting this, and for your comment about crying students. I cried in a professor's office more than once in my undergrad days and each time was so angry and humiliated at the fact that I couldn't stop crying that it made it much worse. I now keep a box of tissues on the table at which the students in my office sit, and if a student really can't pull him/herself together, I suggest going to the restroom down the hall and coming back when control is regained. It works.

I'm thinking of just posting this to the course website as today's "cool link." Is that ok?

Side note: when I first glanced at your subject line I thought it said "Melting points"--a subject near to my heart, as a general chemistry teacher.

Anonymous said...

Students are going to cry whether it's OK with you or not. There's no point in making them feel worse for crying.

Here's a similar one:

Students are going to scream at you whether it's OK with you or not. There's no point in making them feel worse for doing so.

A moist eye is ok but if the student starts bawling he/she should compose herself and come back at a later time, just as landsnark suggested.

Female Science Professor said...

Awesome logic. Clearly my statement could also be extended to show agreement with this:

Students are going to spraypaint obscene graffiti on your office furniture whether it's OK with you or not. There's no point in making them feel worse for destroying your office.

A crying student can certainly be asked (kindly) to take some time to compose himself/herself before continuing the conversation. Asking a crying student to do this is consistent with my statement that it is "OK to cry".

Unbalanced Reaction said...

3a. Do not launch into a 10 minute plea about how you need X grade in order to keep your GPA high enough to keep your med school hopes alive / scholarship / guaranteed job / parents from disowning you.

(I love my students, but since I returned the grades exams last Friday, I have heard ALL of the above.)

Pinkhair 3d said...

I hate the idea that you should be obligated to say something nice to the teacher, especially given how most o the student teacher conferences that I was involved in had rather pointed words for the school...

Polite is fine. B.S. isn't.