Preparing Yourself for Parent Teacher Conferences
October begins many a parent's most dreaded part of the school year: parent teacher conferences. While some parents can’t wait to hear how Johnny or Sally is progressing and hitting all their marks or “what a pleasure” he or she has been, there is still another group of parents (me included), who’d rather have their wisdom teeth pulled than sit down with the teachers and talk about their kids’ progress.
That might make me sound like I’m not concerned about my children’s education, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Until a few years ago, I was very gung-ho about sitting down and talking to the teachers. I want to know what to do better and how to help my kids succeed. Unfortunately, I had a bad experience with a teacher and that’s left me jaded when it comes to communication with teachers.
My bad experience shouldn’t give you a reason to panic though. If anything, I’ve learned a few things along the way to make parent teacher conferences more bearable and easier on you and the teacher.
Keep in mind that the teacher only has a few minutes to talk to each parent. Some teachers give about 15 minutes but most give less (five to ten minutes is about the norm). Because you have a limited amount of time, you need to have an action plan in place. I suggest bringing a notepad and a pen or pencil with you. This way you can jot down any questions you may have for the teacher ahead of time. Don’t be shy to read off your notepad when the teacher asks if you have any questions for him or her; it shows that you’re prepared and you take your child’s education seriously. The notepad and pen also gives you the chance to write down things you may need to follow up on with the teacher or your child.
Let the teacher get through everything they have to tell you. They may have some concerns to go over with you but they should also have some positive things to say about your child! If you’re not hearing positive things, ask. Don’t be afraid to speak up and say, “Thank you for pointing out some things that we need to work on, but I’m wondering what might be some positive things that you can tell me.” I’m not saying that you need to be wary of the teacher that has only “concerns,” but you know your child and if you know they particularly enjoy a part of the day or a subject in school, be sure to let them know what your child likes and ask how those things are going as well. The conference should have a balance of things to work on and things to be proud of.
Once you get your turn to ask questions, if the teacher hasn’t already addressed them (maybe the two of you have the same concerns), be as precise as possible. Give specifics and draw on examples if you can. Your child’s teacher may not expect you to ask questions, so the more information you can give him or her, the better.
By now your five to ten minutes are nearly over. If you’re still not happy with the responses you got from the teacher or you felt like the conference was being rushed and you weren’t given enough time to address the things that you wanted to discuss, ask to set up a meeting for another time. Have days and times that you’re available in mind. If the teacher can’t give you a date or time that they can meet, let them know you’ll call in the morning to schedule something and then do it. It’s important for parents to take the upper hand when they need to and to advocate for their child whenever possible. During a conference there can be a lot to get through in a very short time period. Setting up a meeting to work on specific problems or to address things that you didn’t get a chance to in the conference can only help your child in the long run.
Some teachers ask to have the child attend the conference with the parents. I am highly against having them be in on the conference. Your child should not be present at this initial meeting. They can feel put on the spot if they are hearing that a teacher is not happy with their performance and it’s not the time or place to bring them in the middle. If a meeting needs to be arranged where all parties can sit down and work on specific concerns, then arrange that. During parent teacher conferences I believe it’s a chance for the adults to talk and share information without the child present.
So while it might seem like my “slacker mom” personality spills into how I approach my kids’ education, rest assured, I’m their biggest advocate. And just because I go to the parent teacher conferences doesn’t mean I have to like it, but I’m definitely prepared for it and you should be too, no matter how you view conference time.
You may have some other tips that I’ve left out or forgotten, if so, please share them with me in the comment box!