How to Make the Most of Parent-Teacher Conferences

By Jan Pierce

Whether it’s your first parent-teacher conference or the twentieth, you probably get sweaty palms upon entering the classroom at your assigned time slot. After all you’re on the teacher’s turf and you’re about to hear news about your own flesh and blood’s progress or lack thereof. The language used routinely in school settings might not “compute” and you may have real concerns about any number of issues related to your child’s placement and daily life at school.

If it helps at all, I know from personal experience that teachers also get a bit stressed at conference time. From their perspective they have a ton of data from each subject area to put into a format that can be conveyed and discussed in about eighteen minutes time. It’s a tall order and has to be done in back to back sessions. Teachers have been known to call the child by the wrong name after nine or ten conferences when they’re exhausted and just longing to go home and put their feet up.

But back to you, the parent. You need information. You want to know how your child is doing in relation to the rest of the class. You want to know if there are problems on the horizon and whether or not your child is working up to his or her ability. And, you deserve that information.

It’s important that you understand the purpose of parent conferences. In general the fall conference held several months after the beginning of the term is a broad overview of the child’s standing. In this initial conference you’ll hear about progress in each subject area and maybe a few of the highlights of your child’s performance. You’ll probably be given work samples that give evidence of success levels or areas of need. You may get some test scores that serve to set goals for the rest of the year. If all systems are “go” you may not need further time with the teacher, you’ll just await the next report card.

But, there may be significant problem areas. Your child may be unhappy in school or frustrated by one of the subject areas. The teacher may indicate he is behind in reading or she is struggling with math. There isn’t time in that fifteen or twenty minutes to design a plan to address the problems. And your child’s success is worth the time it takes to make a workable plan and then follow through toward a clear goal. So go ahead and schedule another conference in the near future. Set a time when the teacher can meet only with you to begin a separate goal-setting, problem-solving session. Scheduling another conference gives the teacher time to gather further information and ensures that you’ll be given an open-ended time slot rather than having to rush through information to make way for the next set of nervous parents.

The best way to approach these conference times is as members of the same team. Nothing is gained by confrontational conversations. It’s tempting to want to place blame for poor behavior or poor performance on other people or circumstances, but the best result for your child will happen when everyone works together to make a solid plan.

While you await the next conference session, write down your questions and concerns. Document what you see at home in relation to homework assignments, grades on specific assignments, your child’s attitudes and complaints—anything that will help clarify the issues at that next meeting.

Your second conference, set up to address specific problems or issues, might include some of the support staff at your school. There may be specialists in reading or math, school social workers, speech therapists or specialist teachers in music or art. These support persons may have additional information and perspective that will bring new light to your child’s needs.

You are your child’s best advocate. It’s important you get the best information available to help your child succeed in school. Come to parent-teacher conferences ready to gather information, take a few notes, ask questions and then determine whether or not another conference would be beneficial. Good things happen when parents and teachers work together to benefit your child’s success in school.


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