The Parent-Teacher conference. We’ve all had one. The conference paper comes home and says that the teacher would like to set up a conference. Why? Is my kid misbehaving? Is he falling behind? Is she not making friends? Am I failing as a parent? Deep breathes, mama. Conferences are not a bad thing. There are a million reasons a teacher may request a conference (including a regularly scheduled part of the school’s protocol!); the most important? She wants to update you on your child. Good, bad, or indifferent, her job is to teach your child, and the best way to do that is to open the lines of communication between home and school.
As a former middle school teacher and a now mom of three, I’ve participated in conferences from both sides of the table. And I’m glad to have this experience from both vantage points. My teacher side understands why conferences are important. I know how to help families guide their children through the good AND the hard times in school. And yet, the mom in me seems to forget the years of conferences I led for my students when it is time to attend conferences for my own children. How should I prepare? Do I ask questions? Or just answer the questions?
My older two kids are now in 4th and 5th grade, so after years of teaching and now a good five years of mom-ing, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on conferences. I’ll admit I still stress when I see that form come home. But, I’ve learned a lot about the process, and here’s what the teacher-in-me wants the mom-in-you to know about parent-teacher conferences:
Tips for Surviving a Parent-Teacher Conference
- First and foremost: GO! Seriously, please attend the conference. I sat through many conference days where, despite 20 or more blocks of open times, I only had parents scheduled for 5-8 conference slots. Whether your child is struggling, sailing through the year, or falling somewhere in the middle of these extremes, the teacher wants to talk to you. I want to tell you what your child is doing really well, what he/she needs to work on, and address any issues that are ongoing. I want to know that we are on the same page. I am a parent, so I know schedule juggling can be tricky, but I promise this is time well-spent.
- Before the conference: Talk to your child. Kids stress about conferences too. They have similar worries to the ones we parents have. Am I doing a good job? What will my teacher say? Is she going to tell my parents I forgot my homework last week? What about the time I took the long way back from the bathroom? Take the time to reassure your child that a conference is not a bad thing. Remind him that it’s a time for YOU to learn what he is learning at school. Also ask your child if there is anything he wants to know. We know full well that kids can bottle up emotions, so it is important for you to check if there’s anything that might be bugging your child. Remember, the only way to truly help your child is for all of us (teacher, parents, AND students) to be on the same page.
- Be in touch. If there is something specific you’d like to discuss, please let the teacher know ahead of time. I’m more than happy to discuss any and all aspects of your child’s education, but if I know there is something particular you’d like to see or know more about, I’ll be sure to gather all of the info I can so that it is ready for you. Conferences are booked back to back and are often no more than 20 minutes in length (more in timeliness below!), so the more prepared we both are, the smoother the conference will run.
- Prepare a list of questions and/or concerns. I will have worked hard before the conference to gather information, testing data, and even sample work to review with you. But, I’d also like to hear your questions and concerns. What I see at school and what you see at home are often not the same thing, so I am truly interested in hearing your perspective on your child’s educational progress. In the weeks leading up to the conference, please make note of anything you’d like to discuss (and of course, if it is a pressing matter, contact me prior to the conference!)
- Arrive on time! As mentioned above, conferences are generally booked back to back for several hours at a time. Because there are little to no breaks built in, it is important that you arrive on time (even a few minutes early!) for your conference time so that we can get started right away. On the flip side, please be understanding if I am running a few minutes late. I will do my best to stick to the schedule, but late arrivals can sometimes push things back and while I’ll do my best to keep things on track, running a few minutes ahead or behind is a likely possibility.
During the parent-teacher conference:
- Hear me out! It’s likely that we both have a lot we want to discuss. And again, what you are seeing at home and what I am seeing at school might be very different, so please allow me to give you my perspective. There’s a good chance, too, that we are seeing similar issues/concerns, and I may address them right off the bat. Conferences are a give and take, so while I want to hear everything you have to say, I also want you to hear all I have to say. We can then work together to provide the best plan for your child.
- Ask questions. There’s no way for me to better assess what your child needs than to hear your questions. I can’t fix or improve things of which I’m not aware. Additionally, the school lingo changes by the week (or so it seems), so if a program or teaching strategy sounds new to you, it probably is! Feel free to ask me to explain new terminology so you can support these same programs/teaching strategies at home when you are helping your child with homework.
- Tell me how I can help. I want to know what I can do to make school an enjoyable experience for both you and your child. Please tell me how I can help. If there is something that I can do to better your child’s educational experience, I truly want to know. I will have ideas about what I think will help, but I also want to know your ideas: you know your child best, and you may have an idea of which I haven’t thought. Open lines of communication are vital.
After the parent-teacher conference:
- Talk to your child. Take some time to talk to your child after the conference. Remember those questions that were likely running through your child’s head before the conference? Those same questions–and more!–are probably still running through her head. Be honest. Let her know how it went. Let her know what she can work on. And most importantly? Remind her of all of the things she’s doing really, really well. A little encouragement goes a long way for our little learners.
- Continue to be in touch. I don’t want our discussions to end after the conference is over. We’ve likely developed a plan to best help your child, and I want to know how that is going. Please keep me up to date on how things are going; I am interested in what IS working as well as what is NOT working.
- Continue to prepare a list of ongoing questions/concerns. As things come up, jot them down! Again, if it is pressing, please contact me right away. But if it is something that can wait until our next conference time, be sure to make a note of it so you don’t forget to bring it up. ’ll be doing the same!
School–and all that goes along with it–can certainly be stressful for both adults and kids. (Heck, this whole parenting gig can be stressful for adults and kids alike!) But, the bottom line is whether you are a teacher or a parent (or both!), you want what is best for your kids. You want them to learn, grow, succeed, and feel confident in their skills. And a parent teacher conference? Well, it’s part of the process. So take a deep breath, sort what it is you want to know about your little learner, and attend that conference!
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