School Conferences

The notice just arrived from school that it’s parent-teacher conference time.  Whether you greet the news with dread or enthusiasm, get ready to make some plans.  Across the country parents are gearing up to experience their first one-on-one interaction with the person who spends more waking hours with their child than they do.  Will the news be good or bad?  How will it reflect on them?  What can be done?

Lisa Brandt, a veteran kindergarten teacher in Eau Claire, Wis., has seen the panic in parents’ eyes when they arrive at their first conference.

“It’s important to realize that teachers are all on the parents’ side with the common goal being the child’s success,” says Brandt.

Aside from the fact that parents all spent 12+ years learning to respect – and perhaps sometimes to feartheir teachers, it’s time to redefine that attitude in an effort to benefit the kids.  Parents need to see teachers as useful partners who will help shape their children into the adults they will someday become.  Likewise, teachers view parents’ inside knowledge about their children’s abilities and personalities as the keys that will make teaching a much simpler task.  Brandt explains that one simple comment from a parent like, “Suzie’s best friend moved away last year,” might explain a whole host of behaviors and challenges that can be easily overcome by a teacher armed with this new insight.

Guy Granger, the father of two Seattle teens who is seasoned at this type of conference, says, “Most important:  Be pleasant and supportive.”  Being defensive about your child’s performance will only be destructive.  The value of this meeting will come from being constructive as you learn where challenges and growth areas lie for your son or daughter.

Make it a point to listen to what the teacher has to say.  He or she will have gathered work samples to share and will have identified some key elements to discuss with you.  Try to learn what the teacher’s goals are for your child during this school year, and feel free to share your own.  Be ready to take notes as you talk about one of your favorite topics: your child.

In order to prepare for a conference, make a list of points that are of concern to you and your son or daughter so that you don’t forget what to talk about.  The meetings are brief and fly by quickly, so be on time, come without children in tow if possible, and have your questions ready.  The National Education Association suggests the following questions as a place to start:

  • How well does my child get along with others?
  • What are my child’s best and worst subjects?
  • Is my child working up to his or her ability?
  • Does my child participate in class discussions and activities?
  • Have you noticed any sudden changes in the way my child acts? For example, have you noticed any squinting, tiredness or moodiness that might be a sign of physical or other problems?
  • What kinds of tests are being done? What do the tests tell about my child’s progress?
  • How does my child handle taking tests?
  • How can my child do better, and what can I do to help?

The teacher and student are only two corners of this important triangle.  At the parent-teacher conference, you will have an opportunity to find out how you can enrich and strengthen the learning environment.  Ask the teacher how you can participate with the class, volunteer in the school or supplement your child’s educational experience.  Exchange e-mail addresses so that you can quickly message questions or concerns whenever they arise.

The first parent-teacher conference of the year is an opportunity to set the tone for the months and grades ahead.  Make it positive.  Don’t worry that your child is a direct reflection of you and become argumentative.  Rather, make this the first step to being in constant communication with your child’s teacher.  Kids are smart.  If they find that the parents and teachers are all on the same page, they will sooner realize that school is important and requires their full attention.

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