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Guidance Regarding the Parent-Teacher Conference

27 Oct
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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.

Found some really interesting articles to check out:

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….

Parent-Teacher 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!

Conference day:

  • 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.

In closing…

  • 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.

So It’s Back-to-School Night

15 Sep

Just as I was sitting here trying to think of something to write, my big sis once again takes care of me and sends this fabulous and helpful information about an event coming up shortly for all of us with school aged kids…

Back-to-School Night (aka Meet the Teacher Night, Open House, Curriculum Night) is upon us.  As a mom of two boys, I’ve been to well over 20 of these evenings, and more than that in my role as a kindergarten teacher.

If you think that managing 20 kindergarten students is courageous, think, for a moment, about how a teacher feels looking out at anywhere from 20-40 anxious parents waiting to be enlightened, informed, and assured, while deciding if they are going to like you.  When I attend my sons’ Back-to-School Nights, I really, really want to like their teachers.  I want to see a hybrid of all the qualities my best teachers had … knowledge, compassion, enthusiasm… you know.

As a teacher, looking out at the parents, I want them to like me.  It’s the truth.  I know they may not agree with everything I say, but I want them to respect my years of experience, and my knowledge of how young children grow and develop.  Most important, I want them to trust me with their children, to know that I have their child’s best interest at heart.

All parents have hopes and dreams for their children.  They have some expectations of what school will be like and what their child’s teacher should do to make their child excited about school, to feel safe physically and emotionally.

Teachers have hopes, dreams and expectations, as well for their students and for the positive relationships they hope to establish with their students’ families.  Back-to-School Night plays an important role in that process; it can set the stage for the rest of the school year.

Here are some things to keep in mind about your child’s Back to School Night:

1.     Go to it! You may think this sounds crazy.  Of course you plan to go!  Or, you could be thinking…nah… don’t think so… got two older kids… been there, done that.  No you haven’t. Not really.  Every year is different.  While my core values and principles of sound educational practice haven’t changed, procedures, curriculum, and school policies do.  Also, many teachers post sign-up sheets for Parent-Teacher conferences and other important events for which you will want to be able to select a time and date that works for you.

2.     Reserve your babysitter early. You really don’t want to bring your children to this adults-only evening.  If you are nursing your newborn, pump, or have dad go.  Teachers put a great deal of planning and thought into this time we get with you, we don’t want to hear Madison toppling a block structure while we are explaining important details that you need to hear about your child’s school year.

3.     Come prepared with questions. This is the best time to ask about transportation, library books, birthday celebrations, parent volunteers, trips, etc.  Do make sure you find out the best method of contacting the teacher.  Do not ask her for her home or cell phone number.  You do not call your doctors or lawyers at home…that goes for teachers, too!

If the teacher hasn’t mentioned basic school policies and procedures during her presentation, and you have a question, ask it.  There’s a good chance it’s something we meant to discuss and ran out of time.  I now write a list of Kindergarten FAQ’s I distribute that night, because there are always distractions during the evening and I want to make sure all my parents get the important information.

4.     Do not go to the classroom early. In most schools, parents convene in an auditorium and hear opening announcements from the school principal and other district personnel at the beginning of the evening.  Teachers are sometimes introduced at this time, or are doing last-minute preparations in our classrooms.  Everyone understands that you really just want to get into the classroom, to see the teacher, see the room, see your kid’s work.  The “short” speeches in the auditorium are often, well…boring.  I know.  I’ve heard enough of them!  Still, don’t show up in your kid’s classroom because you don’t want to sit in the overheated auditorium, and you want a few private minutes to hang out with your child’s teacher.  Not a good idea. Ever.  Besides demonstrating basic disrespect for the teacher’s time, you are also showing us that basic rules and etiquette don’t apply to you.  It’s not the way you want to start the school year.

5.     Remember that this is not the time for a private conference about your child. This is important to remember.  In fact, many principals will make a point to mention it before sending parents off to the classrooms.  A principal will remind you it’s an evening for a general overview, not private conversations with the teacher about your child. However, at some point during your time in your child’s classroom, you will most likely have a chance to mingle and look around the class.  Please do approach the teacher and introduce yourself if you haven’t already met.  If s/he feels it’s appropriate to make a comment or share an anecdote with you about your child, s/he will.

6.     If you or your spouse cannot attend, do not ask the teacher to “tell you what you missed” at another time. It’s almost like asking to have the school band give you a special performance because you couldn’t make it on concert night.  We put a great deal of time and energy into making Back to School Night informative and special.  Teachers are often charged with describing a year’s worth of curriculum in one night, while addressing a host of other issues and questions.  We make PowerPoint presentations, we display children’s work, we clean the room, we have the kids leave notes or drawings for their parents – you.  We also distribute packets of information, which you will receive whether you can attend or not.

7.     Don’t forget…you see us around 7:30pm.  Many of us have been at school since 7:30am.  We have taught a full day.  The children go home and we keep working.  We set up the room to show you, in the best way possible, all the wonderful projects, new ideas, and tremendous growth your child will experience their first year in public school.  We pray that we will sound as knowledgeable and caring as we really are.  We hope you will hear in our voices how much we love your children and how honored we feel that you have entrusted them to us for this important and special time in their lives.  We hope you will hear our commitment to do our best for your children.  Because, in many ways, they are our children, too.

We are advocates for your children and want the best educational experience for them.  So help us with that.  Come to Back-to-School night with open minds and open hearts.  We want to answer your questions, reassure you, set you straight if you need it (gently and politely, of course J).   We will be there for you and your child.  So please be there for us.

So Your Child is Starting School…Helpful Hints from a Kindergarten Teacher

4 Sep

My friends and I have all been anxiously texting, BBMing and emailing this weekend as we prepare for the first day of kindergarten on Tuesday.  My mania is high as ever.

I am so fortunate that my sister is a kindergarten teacher.  My friends and I plan to hire her as a support group leader (but she doesn’t know it yet!).

But in the meantime, she’s been nagged by me offered to share some wisdom with us right here; I’m very grateful!

Not a kindergarten parent?  The information will still be helpful, I promise…

It’s Labor Day weekend and you are anxiously awaiting your child’s first day of kindergarten.  Your child has had a couple of years of preschool, you’re finally done with the supply shopping, and you sort of feel ready.

I am a mom of 17 years and a kindergarten teacher. My own children are way past kindergarten, but I am also anxiously awaiting my first day…my 20th first day of kindergarten.

Here are some dos, don’ts, and things to consider as you embark upon this new and exciting time in your child’s life.  Please remember that the following is based upon my actual experiences and what I believe is sound educational and parental practice.  Each district and school has its own unique set of procedures, policies and guidelines, and those are the ones you need to get to know well and follow.

Getting Ready

Do buy your child a sturdy backpack with a fastener s/he can handle and is big enough to hold a lunchbox (if your child will be bringing snack or lunch.)  Zippered packs usually work best as they keep everything inside and dry when it rains and snows.

Do not buy your kindergartener a backpack with wheels.  They are completely unnecessary and most kids cannot handle them safely.

Do have your child wear sneakers or rubber-soled shoes.  By and large, most 4-5/year olds cannot tie their shoes well, if at all.  Safety and comfort is the primary focus, so leave the strappy sandals, patent leather shoes, and Crocs at home.

Do not send your kids to school in unsafe footwear because s/he was screaming and wouldn’t leave the house and you just couldn’t deal with it.  We all have those mornings.

Do allow your children to participate in choosing clothes for school if s/he is so inclined.  But limit their choices between two items that are school and weather appropriate.

Do not send your kids to school in pants with fasteners and extra buckles they can’t undo quickly.  Many bathroom accidents can be avoided if the kids had pants, leggings, tights, whatever they could pull down in a blink.

The First Day

Do adhere to the transportation policies your school and district set forth.  This is a non-negotiable.  I’ve seen more near accidents and problems because parents were parked in bus lanes and blocking the safe flow and direction of young children as they are guided off buses to their teachers and classes.

Do not follow the bus to school in your car. I know you want to.  You want to get that photo as your child steps off the bus on the big day.  But, think about it… buses are rolling into the bus drop off area.  The bus monitors, aides and teachers are carefully scanning each child for the sticker or badge that has his name and the teacher’s name.   A child sees his parent’s car, or his parent hiding behind a bush with a camera (yes, this really happens), and wanders off or cries or both.  Do not make an emotional day more trying than it already is.  Parents who follow their children to school are doing it for themselves, not their children.  The first day of kindergarten is about your children, not you.  Take the picture when your child gets on the bus, and be there when your child gets off the bus a few hours later.  That’s the best way to document the voyage and it’s the biggest gift you’ll give yourself and your child.

I know I’ve written a good deal about it, but it bears repeating.  It’s never, ever a good idea to follow the bus on the first day, or to skip the bus altogether.

After the First Day

Do ask the teacher if you have questions or need clarification.

Do send your teacher a quick email or note if your child had a great first day.  We really do appreciate all positive feedback.

Do not question everything s/he does.  You’ll drive yourself crazy… and probably the teacher, too.

Do remember that all of your children will learn to read and write.

Do not assume they will all grow up to be good people because you are great parents.  Social skills are an integral component of the kindergarten curriculum.  These skills are taught organically throughout the day, and explicitly during lessons designed for that purpose.

Do keep in mind that adjusting to elementary school is a big change for kids and parents.  It’s exciting, but the whole family will need time to get used to the larger setting and different culture.  Public schools must adhere to state standards and regulations, and therefore have rules and policies that can feel impersonal and too stringent.

Do not feel put-off and insulted when you can’t wander into a school without checking in at the office, or into your child’s classroom, since that’s what you may have been used to in preschool.

Do fill out all the forms they give you the way they ask and turn them in on time.  As the year progresses you will feel inundated with a million things from school to fill out and return.  Remember that the teachers have to deal with all the stuff you return to school (and most of it is not generated by the teacher.)  For each thing you have to fill out/order and return, the teacher often has to keep track.  Multiply that by a typical class of 20.

Do not be embarrassed to ask for another copy of a flyer, permission slip, whatever if you need it.

Do teach your child how to wipe his bottom.

Do tell your child’s teacher at an appropriate time if s/he had been receiving support services in pre-K or if there were any major behavior or emotional issues.  The sooner we have this information the sooner we can help your child.

Do not assume we have the CPSE information, as those files are closed and not available to the kindergarten teachers.

A few other items:

Most schools don’t refrigerate lunches that kids bring in, nor do they heat things up.  So be mindful of what you pack.  A little lunchbox ice pack is fine and I’ve never had anything spoil in my classroom.

Do not bring your child to Back to School Night (unless, of course, they are invited) even if you know people who do.  In all the schools in which I’ve taught, it’s an adults-only evening.

And finally:

No matter how many first days of kindergarten I’ve had, I am always nervous and filled with anticipation, just as my new parents and students are.  It will take time to establish routines and for us to get to know one another.  Please be patient with your child, your child’s teacher and yourself, as you make this adjustment.  It is an amazing time and you should take a breath and enjoy it!


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