‘Hey, you have a face, teacher.’

Our first-grader, Emerie, left, and third-grader, Parlie, at parent-teacher conferences Thursday. Not pictured: our kindergartener, Nayvie, who’s over taking pictures for this blog.

Parent-teacher conferences were in full swing Thursday following the conclusion of the second term at our daughters’ elementary school.

Sort of.

“I’ll see about half of the families I normally see in-person this time around,” our daughter’s third-grade teacher, Ms. Folsom, told us at a small table in her classroom.

The sparse attendance made things feel different from last term’s conferences. The hallways were mostly empty this time around, with a few families like ours stepping in and out of classrooms for in-person meetings. Several teachers sat in empty classrooms, either waiting for a family to show up or conferencing remotely with parents on the phone.

Ms. Folsom’s class was our first stop. Then it was on to our first-grader’s and kindergartener’s classrooms, respectively.

One factor hampering turnout: Local parents just aren’t as enthusiastic to meet up during the second round of conferences as they are during the first. “It’s normally slower,” Ms. Folsom added.

But like nearly everything this school year, COVID-19 also played a part. Last term, conferences were held in-person. This time around, parents could Zoom with their kid’s teacher or arrange a phone call.

That didn’t help Thursday’s turnout.

Still, contacting all parents in some form or fashion is important, our kindergartener’s teacher, Ms. Allen told us — especially for the little ones laying the groundwork for learning.

She flashed a plan for meeting with each of her students’ parents last week — some in-person, some remotely.

“Parents still need to know the realities, good or bad,” she said through a face mask.

A better grasp of reality is one reason my wife and I went in-person Thursday. Midway through the most disruptive school year of our lives, we wanted to know how our three elementary age daughters are holding up.

Our kindergartener’s been our biggest concern. Fortunately, her prognosis was pretty good.

Nayvie, 5, can identify rhyme words and count to 100. She had some trouble recognizing a hexagon during a recent assessment.

Geometry was never my strong point, either. Hexagon… is that a stop sign or a two-dimensional house? I wondered, when Ms. Allen hit us with some more reality.

Nayvie can identify 46 sight words, which is apparently pretty good. And the list is growing, her teacher told us.

Nice.

Hearing that Nayvie was mostly on par academically felt good, but what about her social life at school? How’s she doing with the other kids?

She has “lots of friends,” Ms. Allen assured us.

Very nice.

And that’s with Nayvie navigating a global pandemic during her first year of public education. I thought of all the masks, limited interaction with peers and revamped school schedules.

“Have you ever seen anything like it?” I asked the 36-year teacher.

“No. It’s wigging me out,” she said, referencing a rare moment when she recently removed her mask in front of the kids.

“They’ve seen my face a couple times this school year,” said Ms. Allen, a faithful masker who’s received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Looks of surprise filled the room.

“Hey, you have a face, teacher,” one student blurted out.

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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