Cracking the Teacher Conference Code


It’s parent-teacher conference season — that hap-hap-happy time when we get slapped in the face with all our finest parental failings.

I’m a big fan of all my kids’ teachers. They seem to be smart, lovely people who aren’t paid enough for their troubles.

But I will say this about teachers. Whether they’re trying to spare our feelings or avoid coming off like a total jerk: they talk in code.

So I’m going to be your sassy, straight-talking friend here (picture Jackée) and translate “nice teacher” into “plain English” for you. Here’s my go-to glossary of Teacher Conference Code Words and exactly what I think they mean.

Teacher Code Word #1: “Energetic” – Will’s homeroom teacher laid this one on me last week, stammering, “Ohhhh, Will’s my ENERGETIC little one in the mornings!” Come on, people. I am not deceived. We all know this is doublespeak for “spastic,” “bouncing off the walls,” or maybe even, “Please, I beg of you, ask your doctor if Ritalin is right for you.”

Teacher Code Word #2: “Demonstrates unwanted leadership skills” – It’s the nicest way they’ve thought of yet to say, “Your daughter is bossy as all hell, and she better simmer down before the other kids start raining wedgies upon her.”

Teacher Code Word #3: “Exuberant” (also “highly inquisitive“) – Okay, here’s the deal. Your kid will not put her hand down for two consecutive seconds; sometimes there’s even straining and an audible “Ooh ooh!” When the teacher calls on her, your kid’s usually forgotten the question. This teacher covets a big-bottomed classroom aide to do nothing but sit on your child all day or – if such funds aren’t available – to just lock her in the coat closet. But that would be wrong?

Teacher Code Word #4: “Very social” – This means your kid never stops talking. Ever. And he probably touches people a lot. Sometimes with boogers.

Teacher Code Word #5: Disorganized” – I’ve learned the hard way that this is code for “blonde.” Your kid, like mine, lacks the wherewithal to turn in a signed permission slip or a check for the PTA pies or to bring home any one of her three lunch boxes. Your teacher secretly fears that your lost-in-space child may never survive the mean streets of middle school one day.

Teacher Code Word #6: Does not apply himself” – (also known as “not living up to his full potential”) — Sigh. This is the big one. This means your kid spaces out and thinks about ham sandwiches or Minecraft or ANYTHING ELSE BUT REGROUPING and is just doing the minimum he has to do ’til his sad 10-minute recess so he can be free.  This is pretty much every kid. And so often, it is me.

These conferences can send me into despair if I obsess over them too much, imagining that other parents are hearing glowing reports like, “Wow, Mrs. Do-Right! I’m blown away at how your kid is applying himself like a boss.” But I’m pretty sure nobody’s hearing that. And if they are hearing that, that kid is probably raising his hand way too much. And we’ve established that nobody likes that kid.

I know, I know, I know. We’re not whipping out the multiplication flash cards or doing the bonus questions or going to Kumon or “Typing to Learn” or practicing viola 20 minutes a day.

There is no limit to all the things we could do…if I had it in me to run that show.

All I know is that — honestly and truly — we are hitting it as hard as we can.

As a mom, I will never “live up to my full potential.” I may from time to time “demonstrate unwanted leadership skills.” And of course, I’m completely “disorganized.”

But at least no one could dare call me “energetic.”

I will cling to that.