5 Don'ts and 5 Dos for Parent-Teacher Conferences
She's warm and kind and always smiling but 30 minutes before our meeting, I am about to have a panic attack. I ask my husband, "Are you sure you don't want to go to the parent-teacher conference instead of me?"
I've sat at both ends of the desk for parent-teacher conferences and I can tell you, the grass is not any greener on the other side.
Here are some tips for parents to build a positive relationship with the person who will spend many daylight hours with your child:
- DON'T get right down to business. DO take a moment to greet the teacher and settle in. Know that there is no way you will address everything that is happening in the classroom during a 15-30 minute conference. The teacher should be willing to discuss additional concerns at a later date if you run over. Every interaction you have with the teacher is part of a business relationship that is essential to your child's education.
- DON'T dominate the conversation. DO consider the conference a "fact-finding" mission. You might have a lot to say. After all, this is your child and you do have a vested interest in her education. However, parent-teacher conferences are the opportunity to find out the one thing you do not know about your child's learning: what happens in the classroom. A trained expert is giving you her time so that you can ask questions and get tips. When you want to spend 20 minutes talking about how wonderful your children are, call the grandparents.
- DON'T make accusations. DO ask questions. When your child has come home with an upsetting story, it is very easy to go all Mama Grizzly and run into the conference with claws out and teeth flashing. Even older children sometimes mishear words or mistake situations. Calmly ask the teacher about any incidences and give the teacher time to share her thoughts and address any concerns. Open communication can keep a small misunderstanding from becoming a big conflict. Even if the teacher's answer is not satisfactory, the conference is not a time for confrontation. Note her answer and then follow-up with the principal.
- DON'T make demands. DO ask for suggestions. Each child has unique needs and a different learning style. We all want the best for our child. However, it may not be realistic to expect that the teacher e-mails you homework every day for your 11th grade honors student or revises every activity for your Kindergartner. Try asking, "How can we... help Ava stay organized? make sure Dakota is challenged? support Riley's learning needs?" Be ready to support these goals at home, as well. Public schools are responsible for providing an adequate education--it may be your responsibility for bringing adequate up to ideal.
- DON'T assume the worst. DO give the benefit of the doubt. As a teacher and a parent, I have found that conferences work better when I begin with the idea that both adults have the same goal--success for the child. Even if we differ on the definition or the path, we all want to see the student succeed. Start with that common ground and you will find a way to collaborate on the rest.
I took a deep breath and headed into the school. I narrowed down the topics I wanted to address to one: the lock-step mathematics curriculum. Before I said anything else, I exchanged a friendly greeting with the teacher, who really does have a mega-watt smile. I listened as she reviewed how my daughter has been adjusting to the class and approaching the work.
When she was finished, I praised the open-ended reading and writing work and told her how much my daughter loves her class. Then, I shared my daughter's frustrations surrounding the mathematics, in her own words. Acknowledging that the curriculum is implemented district-wide, I asked if there was any room to support my daughter's interest in more challenging work in mathematics.
Yes, the teacher's initial reaction was to explain the validity of the curriculum and her own time constraints in the classroom. Yes, I had to pinch myself under the desk to remind myself not to sabotage the conference with unrealistic demands.
After a few seconds of tension, though, the teacher and I found ways to support my daughter's learning--in the classroom and at home. I spoke with my daughter about areas where we need to deepen her understanding so she can move to the next level of work. And the next day my daughter came home beaming because she was able to play a different mathematics game in class.
When parents and teachers work together, it creates a Win-Win-Win situation.