How to Survive a Parent-Teacher Conference

By Jan Udlock

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With the various preparations for school, parents also need to think about parent-teacher conferences. Sometimes it’s a meeting to look forward to and for other parents this conference may cause some apprehension. However, there are simple ways to get ready for the meeting and solutions to make it a productive time for both you and your child.

Attend Open House

“It’s always a good idea for parents to attend a back-to-school night or open house within the first few months of the year because even though you won’t be able to speak to the teacher specifically about your child’s work. You can meet the teacher, visit the classroom and learn more about the goals for the class,” says Roxanna Elden, author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers.

Make a List

Look over your child’s work and test grades before the meeting. Are you concerned about your child’s reading level or math ability? Do you want to know how well your child interacts with other children?  Is your child on grade level? When you are meeting with your child’s teacher, it’s a good idea to bring a list of questions with you. The list helps you focus on what the teachers says and allows you to concentrate on the conversation rather than trying to think of any forgotten questions or comments.

First Meeting

Typically, you will meet with your child’s teacher once or twice a year depending on the school district’s policy. This conference is for the benefit of the child, and it is helpful if parents attend with a spirit of collaboration. “Always keep the child’s interest as Number One,” says certified counselor and counselor, Diane Lang, MA.

“Never go in with a chip on your shoulder or negative feedback about the teacher. You will likely compromise the information you get about your child if the teacher is feeling defensive,” says Michelle B., mom of two.

Ask the teacher how you can help your child to accomplish his goals. “We ask the teacher for as much feedback and advice as possible. After all, they are professionals dealing with kids every day and can often offer suggestions we hadn’t considered,” says Michelle. If your child is performing above-grade level, discuss with the teacher how you can help your child stay engaged with her subjects.

Some conferences have the child attend so the parent and teacher cannot fully discuss the child’s progress.  Jennifer C., a mom of two, shares that at her child’s school, the student participates in the conference. Her daughter got to show her parents her work and was present when the teacher shared glowing comments and areas that needed improvement. “However, as you might suspect, we were unable to address struggles in a completely honest way,” says Jennifer.

Areas for Improvement

Most parents know their child’s strong points and know the areas a child needs to work on. If you attend a meeting and receive negative feedback about your child, listen to what a teacher has to say. It’s difficult not to be defensive, however, the teacher has your child’s best interest in mind. Do not be afraid to ask questions to get clarification about his concern.

“Typically, I hear good things about his academics and often not such good things about his impatience and lack of leadership,” says Joanna N., mom of two.

Extra Help

Become familiar with your rights as parent. If you have a concern about your child’s below-grade level skill, can the teacher or the school learning specialist help your child address it? Does your school have a program for gifted students? If a child has special needs, the school can provide an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for the student. Your child’s teacher can explain the process and the steps to take to arrange for an IEP for your child.

“I like getting feedback from the teacher because he sees my child in such a completely different context than I do,” says Michelle.

The School’s Communication System

Check with the teacher to see if the school has an email system set up where you can email the teacher with any concerns. Some schools have the student’s academic grades and attendance online so parents are able to stay as up to date as possible.

Parents can talk with teachers by phone if they have a more immediate concern about their child.

Read your child’s school newsletter and bulletin boards to stay well informed of what’s happening at your child’s school.

Respect the Time

Teachers have full schedules and have many meetings so try to limit small talk with her. Brainstorm ideas and solutions with the teacher and leave the meeting with specific goals to help your child with their success in school.

Remember you are your child’s advocate. Some school districts encourage further conferences with teachers if there is a concern either by the parent or the teacher. Diane Lang suggests that as the parent, you can build a relationship with your child’s teacher through emails, asking questions and sharing concerns about your child with her teacher throughout the school year. These conversations will further benefit your child and her progress. 

Jan Udlock is a mom of five and freelance writer.

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