Conferences are coming up for us next week. I’m still traumatized by one of the preschool conferences a couple of years ago, where the bitch teacher spent our 10 minutes together telling me how out of control the twins are in class…they were two and a half.
They’ve matured a bit, as have I, and with that I realize it’s helpful for me to think through how I’d like to optimize that little bit of precious time with my kid’s teachers.
Acing Parent-Teacher Conferences,
10 Questions A Parent Must Ask At School Conferences and (this one is a little older but still helpful I think) Parent-Teacher Conferences
But surely the most wisdom, for me, comes from my sister, who’s back to talk about conferences….
You’ve made it through the first couple months of school. Your children are adjusted, you’ve met the teacher at least once or twice in group settings, and now it’s time for your first official Parent-Teacher Conference.
Most parents are anxious about the conferences. It can be a time fraught with emotion. Many questions pop into your mind: How’s my kid doing? Am I going to hear something that’s going to freak me out? What if the teacher describes a totally different child than the one I know at home? The following may help you as you get ready for your first conference.
Scheduling the conference:
- If you have the opportunity to select a time for the conference, choose a time you can actually make. It’s sounds silly, but I once had a parent cancel at the last minute because the conference time she selected was the same time as her daughter’s weekly ballet lesson. This year, a mom was a no-show for a conference time she had chosen. When I wrote to her and said, “I am sorry you were not able to make the conference time you chose, “ her response was, “I work then. I can’t come at that time.” You can imagine what my thoughts were.
- If your plans change, let the teacher know as soon as possible that you need to reschedule. That’s just common courtesy. We understand that lives are complicated and stuff happens. Just tell us that you have a conflict and we will work out something. Although conference schedules are set by the administration and there are limitations, we have some flexibility about accommodating parents who have extenuating circumstances.
- If, somehow, you actually forget to come, just write a note and apologize! We get it. Even the most organized people forget stuff. We are not going to think you are a bad parent. Just own your mistake and move on!
- Come prepared with your questions. You don’t necessarily have to bring a list with you. But most conferences are 15 to 30 minutes, at the very most. If you don’t have questions, that’s okay, too.
- Show up on time. If you are lucky, your teacher will be running on time. There is a chance you will have to wait a few minutes. I know how annoying it is when you left work early, made arrangements for your kids, and now you are waiting…more than a few minutes. Don’t be shy about knocking on the door and giving the teacher a little wave if you’ve been waiting more than 5 minutes. While most teachers are comfortable letting parents know when the conference time is over, some teachers and parents need a little reminder.
- What to expect: The teacher should discuss your child’s academic progress and social development. She will also bring up any concerns and highlight your child’s strengths. I usually share anecdotes and show samples of my students’ work to support my comments.
- Don’t wait for the end of the conference to bring up a big issue or ask an important question. I usually begin a conference asking the parents if they have any specific concerns or issues they’d like me to address during our conversation. Most of the time, it’s something I had already planned to discuss and usually relates to general progress. However, it’s helpful to me because I know what is on the parents’ minds. I may even address their concerns first to make sure they can be discussed in our allotted time.
- It’s reasonable for you to ask to see samples of your child’s work. While every teacher has her own way of running conferences, most teachers have samples of work to show you as we discuss your child’s progress.
- Don’t ask the teacher how your child stacks up compared to the rest of the class. A better way to phrase that would be “Is my child within the range of what is expected for his age?” It’s perfectly okay to ask the teacher how to support your child at home with any areas of relative weakness and how to enhance demonstrated strengths.
- Think twice about asking a teacher how you can “push” your child at home. It’s not a race. If your child is succeeding in school, you are already doing a great job at home. If you are so inclined, do ask the teacher if there are any activities that may continue to inspire and motivate your child to keep thinking and exploring. Most teachers have lots of suggestions and even handouts listing activities, websites, etc. that contain fun ways to reinforce basic concepts, explore new ideas and basically tickle your kids’ brains.
- Never ask a teacher about other children in the class. This does not apply if your child is having a specific issue with another student. However, the conversation should be limited to your child’s interaction with the other student, not your opinions or queries about the other child’s home life, needs, behaviors, etc.
If your child has special needs:
- Don’t be alarmed if you see a special area teacher at your child’s conference. In some schools, the speech teacher, O.T., school psychologist or another support person may be sitting at the table when you walk into your child’s conference. It may be because your child is receiving building support and you are getting a progress report. It may be because issues had arisen in class – which you may or may not already know about it – and support personnel could offer more insight and a plan to help your child. This is not a bad thing. Getting the help your kid needs is what’s important. In fact, when support and interventions are readily available and staff are available to answer your questions, this is all really good and a relief to parents who are looking for answers.
- Sometimes there are too many issues to discuss in a standard Parent-Teacher Conference. Issues can arise which merit further discussion. You will probably have to table these for another day, when more time can be devoted and the appropriate school personnel can be available, if necessary.
This is not your last conversation about your child:
- When the conference is over your teacher will start closing folders, stacking your child’s work, and will thank you for coming in. She may begin a sentence with, “Before we end…” She may stand up if she is noticing that you are making no move to leave. Please be respectful of her time, and the needs of the parents who are waiting in the hall. Most parents would love to sit all day and listen to the teacher talk about their children. Some parents just love to hang around and socialize with the teacher. Unfortunately, time is not a luxury. Also, in the same way Back to School Night was not a time for private conferences, this is not the opportunity for you to ask about the curriculum for the rest of the school year.
- Remember that you will have other communication from the teacher about your child. When you get home and realize you forgot to ask about something or there is something the teacher said that concerns you, we want you to contact us.
- Teachers are sensitive to your feelings. We do not like to have to tell you upsetting news about your child. We do so because it’s our responsibility to bring important issues to the surface so a plan can be made to help your child.
- How are you challenging my child? This is often a favorite question from parents who are told that their child is making terrific progress and that there are really no concerns. As I mentioned earlier, teachers provide a wealth of activities that stimulate and enhance your child’s school experience. Teachers will have suggestions for parents, as well. But here’s the thing: if your child is excited about school, is making speedy progress, that all indicates that your child is being challenged. A bored child is a disappointed child. A disappointed child often does not do well in school, regardless of ability.
Parent-Teacher conferences can be as nerve-wracking for teachers as they are for parents. We often have 12-16 conferences in one day. It is draining for us. While we have an idea of how our conversations will go with any set of parents, we can never be sure.
Parent-Teachers conferences can be wonderful, even when there are difficult issues to discuss. A successful conference happens when teachers feel like they have the support of the parents; when parents and teachers feel like they are talking about the same child; when parents feel that teachers really know their child, not just their academic strengths and weaknesses, but everything from their favorite books to whether they prefer to work alone or in groups. When the conference becomes a conversation, it is a truly an uplifting experience for the teachers, the parents, and most importantly…your child.