Around the same time that the pumpkin-flavored coffee drinks appear in your local coffee shop, another annual event will take place that may send you reeling like a triple shot of espresso. Yes, it’s almost that time of the year: parent-teacher conferences. Your child means the world to you, so meeting face to face with the person who spends as many or more waking hours of the day as you do with your child can be daunting.
Attending a parent-teacher conference does not need to be stressful or confrontational. With some basic tips, communicating with your child’s teacher can be a fulfilling and beneficial means to a successful academic year for your child. Just remember the “4 C’s” for a successful conference.
1. Be CIVIL: If today’s political climate in our country has taught us anything, it’s that we need to step back and remember how to be civil, even in the face of our differences. Your child’s teacher is a professional educator who wants the same thing as you — for your child to have a successful year. Work as a team towards that goal. Be kind. Be positive. Be professional. If necessary, request the school counselor or an administrator to sit in on the conference.
2. Always COMMUNICATE: While email is efficient and expedient, it’s also faceless and easily open to misinterpretation. When writing an email to your child’s teacher, be mindful that your words may be read by someone who taught all morning, had a five-minute lunch break before going out for recess duty, and then taught again all afternoon. They’re most likely ending their day with a screen full of emails to answer, papers to grade, lessons to plan and bulletin boards to decorate. Start and end your emails with pleasant comments, and ask for a phone call or a short meeting to discuss anything serious. Don’t go over the teacher’s head with issues unless you have discussed them together first.
3. CARING is sharing: Your child’s teacher needs to know when things at home may interfere with performance in the classroom. Is there a new baby on the way or already at home taking more of Mom’s attention? Have financial issues changed what after-school activities they can join? Did your child’s best friend change schools and now there is no one to hang out with at recess? Are there social issues at school such as bullying or being left off of a party invitation list? Communicating this to teachers will help them be on the lookout for your child and ease some of the tensions they’re facing. Teachers can be your best advocates.
4. CARVE-OUT time: It’s important to be involved in your children’s work. This does not mean doing their math homework or writing their English essay. But do spend a few minutes daily talking about their school day. Avoid yes/no questions. Ask instead, “Which problem was the most difficult on the math test?” or “What sport are you playing in PE this week?” Once a week, go through their backpack and review returned graded work, look over their note-taking skills and read a chapter of a textbook together. You can discuss with your child’s teacher other ways to be more involved at home.
Most public school systems address parent-teacher conferences on their websites, offering tips for parents to have more successful communications with the faculty. Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), the largest public school district in Maryland, has a two-page flyer on its website about preparing for parent-teacher conferences, along with a list of questions to ask teachers. MCPS advises, “When parents and teachers talk with each other, each person can share important information about the child’s academic progress, talents and needs.”
Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), the largest public school district in Virginia, also devotes a page of its website to outlining various levels and methods of communication between parents and teachers. FCPS states, “The purpose of a parent-teacher conference is to develop a mutual understanding of various aspects of the student’s progress and to encourage cooperative planning toward effective solutions of problems that may exist.”
After your parent-teacher conference, don’t just file away the student work shared by the teacher or the notes you took during the meeting. The National Education Association (NEA) website, in its tips for parents on parent-teacher conferences, says, “Start immediately on the action plan you and the teacher put together. Discuss the plan with your child and track his progress. Stay in touch with your child’s teacher throughout the year with regularly scheduled ‘report card’ conferences that can keep the communication lines open.” For more tips from the NEA on parent-teacher conferences, go to nea.org.
STRAIGHT FROM THE SOURCE
Get the scoop on parent-teacher conferences directly from your child’s school. These area public schools offer parents some helpful online resources: