Parent-teacher conferences: What if you were in the hot seat?

Parent-teacher conferences at my son's school are amazing. Instead of meeting with teachers one at a time, parents meet with their child's teachers all at once. For 30 minute, parents and teachers sit together, with the teachers sharing individually about the student, as well as discussing together and answering parents' questions. When the student is a junior in high school, the format changes a bit in that instead of the parents being the key guest at the conference, the student is asked (ie, required) to join the conference. The teachers then direct their discussion to the student, inviting (ie, requiring) the student's involvement in the discussion through questions. The reason for this shift beginning in the junior year is to recognize that by this age, responsibility and accountability for education rests more and more with the student and less and less with the parents. According to the school, it is a way to "invite [the students] into the community of learners in a more substantial way."

As I was sitting in on this student-teacher conference earlier in the week, with my high school-senior son in the "hot seat" I got to thinking, What if the rest of us were called to accountability twice a year in the same manner by a panel of our mentors, elders, and advisors? What if we were called to explain ourselves, defend ourselves, share what we'd learned and done in the previous six months? Gulp.

The questions posed to my son by this panel of teachers were not easy questions to answer. I would have stumbled, fallen under their intensity.

Take a look at these questions that were asked (as scribbled in my notebook during the conference). Reflect on how you would fare with questions like these in regards to the past six months of your life:

  • How would you like to begin [to discuss the last six months]?
  • With respect to difficult concepts in philosophy and theology, did you come to understand the points being made even if you didn't agree with them or like them? Or did you reject them outright or only pretend that you understood them?
  • Similarly, when you reject a text, is it on the basis of argumentation or just because you don't like it?
  • Assuming that questions are more important than answers, what are the questions that are truly at stake? What are the problems associated with these questions?
  • If we can agree that a sense of wonder is a skill rather than a feeling (ie, someone with a true sense of wonder does not limit that wonder to only things he or she likes), how would you evaluate yourself with respect to that quality? How have you developed a sense of wonder as a skill?
  • What does depth of inquiry look like and how would you evaluate yourself in that regard?
  • How good were you at [fill in the blank]? Did you master it?
  • What were your weaknesses?
  • What adjective would you use to describe yourself over the last semester?