A meeting between you and your child’s teacher can be a powerful tool for helping your child succeed in school. Whether scheduled by the school, requested by you or suggested by the teacher, such a meeting gives you a platform to learn about your child and to assert your child’s needs. Follow these nine guidelines for more productive (and even enjoyable) parent-teacher conferences.
1. Have a goal in mind. You or your child’s teacher may have initiated the meeting. Either way, you should consider what you hope to accomplish. Ask yourself ahead of time what a successful outcome for you would be, then plan and work toward that goal.
2. Come prepared. Write down your questions ahead of time. Bring samples of your child’s work that demonstrate problem areas and/or strengths. Keep track of problem behaviors at home that may be repeating themselves in the classroom.
3. Listen! Then respond. Let the teacher speak first, and listen carefully. Take notes on points for which you need clarification or with which you disagree. Respond to the teacher’s concerns; then introduce topics you want to cover.
4. Ask for specifics. What is your child’s particular behavior the teacher is complaining about? At what times and how frequently is it occurring? Ask what an acceptable behavior would look like.
5. Request special services. Many services are available for children with special needs. Ask for an evaluation if you suspect your child has a learning disability.
6. Be firm, but don’t threaten. You have a right to assert your point of view, but do so with respect and courtesy. Most teachers care about your child’s success. Politely ask to bring the principal into the discussion if you want, but don’t raise your voice or threaten to have them fired. Being nasty will only distract from your point of view and make it harder to work with the school in the long run.
7. Avoid discussion of other children. Teachers have legal and ethical reasons why they can’t discuss other children. Information about your child should be kept confidential as well. Respect these practices for everyone’s benefit.
8. Be willing to follow up. Let the teacher know you are willing to help your child at home, if necessary. Ask what you can do at home to supplement what is going on in the classroom, and then follow through.
9. Ask for more time, if needed. You are entitled to a full discussion and understanding of your child’s progress at school. If the teacher can’t continue right then, set up another appointment at a convenient time.
Welcome the chance to confer with your child’s teacher, whether your child is having problems or not. You and the teacher can help each other provide the best educational experience possible. Children learn best when home and school are in agreement on expectations and goals.
Sharon Nolfi, M.A., School Psychologist, is the mother of two children. Her articles have been published across Canada and the US.
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