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Wednesday, November 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 17.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Mama Madison: Why I love parent-teacher conferences
They're something to be thankful for

When my kids were in kindergarten, I'd volunteer in the cafeteria during lunchtime, cursing whoever invented the vacuum-sealed fruit cup. I never once encountered a five-year-old that could manage to open mandarin oranges without adult interference. In second grade, it was helping with math centers that got me up to school once a week. And on every elementary school birthday my kids celebrated, I delivered classroom doughnuts to mark the occasion. That's a lot of trips to Greenbush. And a lot of trips to school.

But I'm finding, as my kids get older, I don't get inside their schools nearly as much. My youngest is in fifth grade and just starting to enter the age where she'd prefer I did not, at risk I might say something embarrassing, volunteer in her classroom. I only go to middle school for band concerts or dentist appointment pick-ups. And I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've crossed the threshold at West High.

But this week I will walk the halls of all three of my kids' schools. Because this is the week of parent/teacher conferences.

Along with our daughter, my husband and I will be sitting down, for the final time in our parenting careers, with an elementary teacher. The teacher will likely tell us about SRI levels, WKCE scores and various other measurements. But hopefully, if past history proves true, we'll also happily hear of a different kind of "assessment" -- the one that our 10-year-old is kind and respectful to everyone in her class.

In middle school, we'll get together with our seventh grade son's science teacher, who will share not only his own observations of my kid's lab observations, but also the written observations of my son's math, foreign language and geography teachers who will not be in the room. I'll be frustrated for sure. I'd love to ask in person about how my son's Spanish accent is developing or if he'll be ready for algebra next year. But I understand the logistical nightmare this level of personalization would cause and accept the need for middle school efficiency.

The concept of efficiency is taken to dizzying heights in high school, though, where teacher conferences kind of resemble the speed-dating episode of "Sex and the City." Now, instead of concentrating on just one "relationship," my husband and I will race from floor to floor, spending no more than 5 minutes with each one of my kid's seven teachers. I'll admit I was a bit skeptical last year. How could the totality of my son's history, English or biology experience be whittled down to just five minutes?

I learned though, five minutes can be more than enough time to find out that your child is actively engaged in class, needs to write more neatly on tests and should find a way to dial back his natural tendency to "over participate." In the hands of an excellent teacher and communicator, more time isn't necessarily better.

It isn't lost on me that, from a calendar perspective, this could have been my Thanksgiving post. But this year I didn't feel like writing about turkey or stuffing. Instead, this week, I'd rather reflect on the fact that parent/teacher conferences are the only time of year when I get to spend a block of time -- whether it be 5, 15 or 30 minutes -- discussing my very favorite "subject," my kids, with a caring, trained teaching professional.

And that is certainly something to be thankful for. That, and the fact that no one ever asks me to open fruit cups anymore.

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