With the end of the school year approaching, it is time to schedule year-end parent-teacher conferences. Parents are separated into different groups when it comes to these meetings. Some parents love the chance to spend time with their child’s teacher, talking about what is going well and brainstorming solutions to challenges. Others, though, become intimidated, feeling perhaps, like children themselves as they sit in the too-small chairs.
The first few times I met with my girls’ teachers, I left feeling more confused than when I began. Even though I had written down questions before the conference, time was short and I left without many answers. Over the years, I have developed proven strategies to learn all I can about my girls’ academic and social life at school. I have also spoken with friends who are teachers to learn what they wished parents knew about conferences.
Below are some recommendations to make the most out of this Spring’s parent-teacher conferences:
Write it down. Make sure all your questions are written down in priority order. Jump right to the important questions. If you save the big questions for the end of the meeting, you will likely run out of time. Bring paper and a pen to take notes during the conference. You will forget more than you remember.
Cover important topics first. With limited time, it is important to cover important topics first. As Melinda Sohval, a mother of two says, “Try to minimize the small talk. Be polite but cut to the chase and say something such as, ‘I am looking forward to hearing how Daniel is doing in your class.’” Then if there is time left over, you can ask the teacher about their own children, discuss the weather or complain about the high school football team’s record.
Let the teacher talk. When my girls were young, I would be anxious to ask questions or to explain misperceptions I believed the teacher might have. I would start talking as soon as I sat down. When I did this, I wouldn’t learn anything. After all, I already knew all the information I was sharing. The teacher was the one with new information for me. Now I sit quietly and let the teacher talk first. Only after they have shared do I begin to ask any questions I might have.
Resist the temptation to explain. If the teacher says something less than favorable about our children, the first reaction is often to become defensive and explain away the action. Instead, use your time wisely to understand what is going on and brainstorm with the teacher for a solution.
Don’t forget to talk about your child’s social skills. The focus of conferences is often on the academics, but school is also a social place. Your child can interact very differently at school than they do at home, so take advantage of this opportunity to learn how your child functions in a community.
Consider sending in your questions ahead of time. Kindergarten teacher and mother of two, Betsy Carter sends home a questionnaire to her parents before the conference. She says, “I always send home a questionnaire with a comment section about a week before conferences so I can mentally prepare and have answers ready to expedite the process. Parents seem really appreciative and it helps us mainstream the conference.” If your child's teacher does not provide this option, you can still send a note to them with questions before the conference. Doing this will help to maximize the face-to-face time you do have.
Plan ahead for success. Teacher and mother of two, Jennifer Cowhaven gives the following powerful tip: “If there is an issue,” she says, “don’t leave until the teacher and the parent have come up with a three-part plan. What are the next steps for 1. The teacher; 2. The parent; and 3. The student. All three must take responsible actions.”
Pitch in. After the teacher has a chance to explain what your child is learning in the classroom, consider how you might pitch in at home. Mother Lynn Chistensen says, “I always ask, after hearing the teacher’s initial comments, 'What can we do at home to support what you are doing in the classroom with Susie?'” Teachers appreciate parents who see teaching as teamwork.
Say thank you. Teachers work incredibly hard for our children. Don’t forget to thank them for all that they do. Even if a conference is stressful and as a parent, you receive updates that appear negative, don’t hesitate to say thank you. Teachers are always looking out for what is best for our children and they will remember your words of thanks.
Stacey is a freelance writer and mother of two girls. She has been perfecting her parent-teacher conference skills for nearly a decade.
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