Accountability · achievement gap · coronavirus · Educational Equity · NYC Schools · NYC Schools Reopening · NYC Teacher

Are Remote Parent-Teacher Conferences Here To Stay?

When New York City shut down due to the Covid pandemic in March of 2020, my middle child was a sophomore in high school. We were informed that Spring parent-teacher conferences would be held over Zoom.

I was excited by the idea. At that point, I’d spent close to a decade of my life attending public school parent-teacher conferences. This entailed my husband and I arriving at the 3300+ student high school both our sons attended at least an hour before the meetings were scheduled to start, so we could take our place in line with the other parents. This queue would stretch out from the entrance, across the street, and down the block. Spectators would periodically stop by to wonder what we were in line for. When told it was for parent-teacher conferences, they would slowly back away, shaking their head in wonderment at our peculiarity.

Once the doors were opened, a swarm of mothers and fathers (often with their students in tow to serve as translators, or younger siblings who couldn’t be left home alone) would flood the hallways, running for the stairs, the elevators, and the perennially malfunctioning escalators. Time is of the essence here (kind of like a Western Land Rush… or a Black Friday Sale), because, in front of every classroom where a teacher sits waiting to dedicate three minutes (and no more) to discussing every student, is perched a teen volunteer with a sign-up sheet.

Parents would jot their name down on one sheet, get an estimate of what time their slot would become available, then rush to sign up on another sheet, hoping their number was called at one before it was time for another. If you miss your spot, you go to the back of the line and start the process all over again.

When not frantically running from floor to floor, the bulk of parental time was spent sitting in the hallways, waiting. It was a great chance to catch up with fellow parents–unless they had to rush off because the three people who signed up ahead of them had been no-shows and suddenly it was their turn. Psychic powers are a plus in this sport of kings!

Twice a year, my husband and I went through this exercise. And, twice a year, I said to my husband, “Surely, there must be a more effective way to do this. Electronic sign ups? Text notifications when it’s your turn?”

Which was why, when remote parent-teacher conferences were announced in 2020, I was enthused and supportive. I couldn’t wait to write a post about how this was the better way I’d been advocating for!

Except, in Spring 2020, the promised remote parent-teacher conferences were cancelled. We were assured they’d be rescheduled for later in the year. They were not.

My son left high school to homeschool himself in November of 2020, so there were no more opportunities for us to try out this new model.

But then, my youngest child started high school in September of 2021 (a much smaller one than the behemoth her brothers had attended). Once again, remote parent-teacher conferences were announced. 

And, this time, they happened. 

More or less.

To start, we were sent an online school booking form and informed that registration would open at 5 PM on a Friday. At 5 PM on that Friday, I clicked the link, went to the form, and found it both easy and convenient to use.

I entered my child’s name. I clicked the drop-down menu, subject by subject. Her teacher was identified, their free time slots indicated. I clicked to reserve the slots. I was emailed a link confirming the teacher, time, and Zoom link to use.

“This is terrific!” I raved to my husband.

I booked parent-teacher conferences with four of her academic subject teachers, English Language Arts, Geometry, Global History, and Biology. (She also takes Spanish, but as the teacher had been fired the week before, there was no one to speak with.)

The Monday before the scheduled Wednesday conferences, we received a series of emails announcing that: To accommodate more families during Parent Teacher Conferences, we have assigned you to be with (a different teacher from my child’s primary one). This happened in every single subject.

For one of them, my daughter said, “The only interaction we’ve had is when I asked if I could go to the bathroom.”

Now, I would have thought that signing up as soon as the booking form opened would have gotten me my conferences with my child’s primary teachers. I was wrong. (Remember how I wrote about my fear that, when I rocked the boat to get my daughter into the math class she needed, there would be retaliation from the administration? Don’t think that conspiracy theory didn’t cross my mind. But then I decided to get over myself. I’m not that important.)

Yet, I was still enthusiastic!

This has still got to be better than floor dashing and psychic schedule reading!

My husband and I planted ourselves in front of the computer for our first conference. We clicked the Zoom link we’d been sent. We were asked for a password.

We’d received no password.

We emailed the school immediately. We got no guidance. We called the school immediately. We got voice mail.

We missed the first conference.

We clicked the link for the second scheduled conference. We got in without being asked for a password. We spoke to the teacher. She was lovely and knowledgeable, described our child with details that proved she had the right kid and wasn’t just speaking generically. She even sent us some follow up documents via email.

Buoyed by our success, we clicked on the link for the third conference. We ended up popping into the middle of someone else’s. The teacher apologized profusely, explained that he hadn’t been given a schedule of which family was signed up when, and asked if we could wait to speak to him after he was finished for the night.

We did and had another lovely conference with a teacher who seemed to know and understand our child.

For the fourth and final conference, the teacher sent out a bulk email saying he’d had a family emergency and would need to reschedule for Friday afternoon. 

My husband is also a teacher. He has conferences of his own to participate in, so the timing was tricky. But, when we reached out to the teacher, we were able to come up with a mutually convenient time outside of the prescribed window. The teacher zoomed in from school, I zoomed in from home, and my husband zoomed in from work.

So three out of four… isn’t bad?

I actually still think so. I actually still think remote parent-teacher conferences are the way to go. Technical glitches are easier to fix than the frenzy of trying to canvass a single building on foot in the space of a few hours. It cuts down on the need to find babysitting for younger siblings. It removes travel time which, for some families, can add multiple hours to the process. Working parents can log in from the job.

Yes, technological equity is still an issue (for which we ask you to consider donating equipment to our mutual aid website), but I still believe remote conferences increase accessibility overall and should continue even after the pandemic ends.

What do you think? Should this be the default moving forward? Let us know and share your remote parent-teacher conference experiences in the Comments, below!

What do you think?

One thought on “Are Remote Parent-Teacher Conferences Here To Stay?

  1. Our conferences went smoothly. We signed up the same way to meet the teachers and they were the ones we met with. There was one snag – the wrong link was given for the PE teacher, so for at least one of the days parents could not meet with him. Overall, we were impressed.

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