By ELLEN LEVITT
My daughters both attend the same large public high school, Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, New York. Murrow and almost all the other public high schools in New York City have been holding their autumn parent-teacher conferences (middle school and elementary school soon follow). This rite of passage can be eye opening or humdrum, hearing about how your children are faring in school.Of course, once the kids are in middle school and high school, there are many more teachers to visit. My 10th grader has eight classes, my 12th grader has six. Although my husband and I did not chat with the girls' phys ed teachers, that still meant several other teachers to see. And some teachers end up with a back log of families waiting to speak with them.For the most part these teachers spoke glowingly about my girls, but did point out a few ways in which they should improve (speak up more in class; put more analysis into your writing; don't use the bathroom every time during English; etc.) My husband and I managed to see all the teachers except for our 10th grader's Spanish teacher (long line, and honestly we lost patience). I reflected on our thoroughness: my parents did not go to speak with every single teacher of mine by the time I was in high school, even though I was a very good student. In fact, my dad probably did not go to any conference, and my mom only went if my brother or I had serious trouble in a class. For example, my mom only spoke to my Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry teacher because I was nearly failing this difficult course. The teacher frankly told my mother that I should seriously consider dropping it after the first term, and he would just give me the passing grade for effort. Believe me, I followed his advice.People still refer to these talks as "parent-teacher conferences," but in many cases the family members who speak with the teachers are grandparents, older siblings, and other types of guardians. I taught for 20 years in the NYC public school system, and at least twice I spoke with parole officers of certain kids. Another time or two I spoke with the student's military recruiter; the kid was enlisting in the Navy after graduation.There is also a social aspect, at least for us, about Conferences. I have a few friends whose kids also attend Murrow, so it was nice to run into the parents. In fact, I ran into a mom I hadn't seen in several years, because her daughter is now attending the school. (Her daughter had been a good friend of my 10th grader but now claimed not to remember her.) I am also friendly with a few teachers in the school because I taught with one (at a different school) and have known a few since we were kids.My daughters' teachers are a diverse group: my 10th grader's teachers include an Orthodox Jewish man, an African-American man, a Chinese woman, an Italian-American man, a Latino man. And the student population of the school itself is quite diverse: in fact, earlier last week the school held a special event called the Diversity Wave, in which about a third of the students and most of the staff did "the Wave" (you know, that silly arm flutter movement that is popular at some sports games, especially baseball). Everyone who participated wore a dark-green T-shirt and stood in different parts of the school. It's all on video, and it's kind of cute and definitely a school spirit and morale booster.When my girls were very young they attended a Conservative Jewish day school in our neighborhood. The diversity was much different: there were kids of Ashkenazic background and kids of Sephardic background. Same for the teachers although there were a few non-Jewish staff members. I know some Jewish people are downright wary and even fearful of the diversity of a school such as Murrow High School; honestly, I am not and I even embrace it. There are a number of Jewish students at Murrow, and even a few boys who wear kipot.
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