Do Your Homework for Parent-Teacher Conferences
These simple tips help you get ready for parent-teacher meetings so they are productive
As part of the various preparations and adjustments at the start of a new school year, parents also need to think about parent-teacher conferences. Sometimes it's a meeting to look forward to, but other times this conference may cause some apprehension. Regardless, there are simple ways to get ready for the meeting and solutions to make it a productive time for you and your child.
Attend the 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 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?
Take a list of questions with you when you meet your child's teacher on an individual basis. 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.
Know What To Expect
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 Diane Lang.
"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 Blair, Oregon mom of two.
Ask the teacher how you can help your child 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," Blair says. If your child is performing above grade level, discuss with the teacher how you can help your child stay engaged with her subjects.
Some teachers require that the child attend, preventing the parent and teacher from fully discussing the child's progress. Jennifer Crain, a Washington mom of two, says at her child's school, the student participates in the conference. Her daughter showed her parents her work and was present when the teacher shared glowing comments and areas that needed improvement. "How-ever, as you might suspect, we were unable to address struggles in a completely honest way," Crain says.
Address Areas for Improvement
Most parents know their child's strengths and weaknesses. If you attend a meeting and receive negative feedback about your child, listen to what the 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 for clarification about any concerns.
"I like getting feedback from the teacher because he sees my child in such a completely different context than I do," Blair says.
Get Extra Help
Become familiar with your rights as a parent. If you have a concern about your child's below-grade level skill, ask if the teacher or the school learning specialist can help 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 for him or her. Your child's teacher can explain the process and steps needed to arrange for the IEP.
Understand the Communication System
Check with the teacher to see if you may email him or her with any concerns. Some schools put the student's academic grades and attendance online so parents are able to stay as up to date as possible. Talk with teachers by phone if you have a more immediate concern about your child.
Be sure to read your child's school newsletter and bulletin boards to stay well informed of what's happening.
Respect the Teacher's Time
Teachers have full schedules and many meetings, so try to limit small talk. Brainstorm ideas and solutions with the teacher and leave the meeting with specific goals to help your child be successful in school.
Remember, you are your child's advocate. Some school districts encourage additional conferences with teachers if necessary. 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 throughout the school year. These conversations will further benefit your child and her progress.
Jan Udlock is a mom of five and freelance writer.