Aaahh, yes… the parent/teacher conference. It’s that time of year again, Mom and Dad, when teachers tell us all about our children – the good, the bad and the ugly. I tried to count up all of the parent /teacher conferences that I have been to over my past 23 years of raising kids and I lost count. I’d have to say that most of them have been very encouraging with positive feedback and constructive criticism. A few were a bit scary, like my son’s ninth grade algebra teacher. I had seen his grades so I was aware that it was not going to be pretty, however, upon placing just one foot over the classroom threshold, his teacher Mr. Butts (I kid you not), a former Marine, bellowed “INCONSISTENT!” Yikes! At least let me get seated and comfy before you start yelling about my kid. Then there was the teacher who opened her classroom door to see me standing in the hall waiting for her, let out a sigh of relief and said “Oh, thank goodness it’s you! I thought it was another parent.” Awkward silence. “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have said that!” No, maybe not. I will let you in on a little secret: Teachers dread parent/teacher conferences as much as we do.
If you read my previous post Back to School Basics: The Parent/Teacher Partnership , then you know that I feel that parental involvement is an extremely important factor in a student’s success. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I think parent /teacher conferences should be on the high priority list for every parent. I consider it one of those things that both Mom and Dad must schedule time off to attend because it only takes about thirty minutes of your time, at the most, but can produce much longer lasting dividends. I guess then that it also won’t come as much of a surprise that over the years, I have developed a strategy for making the most of these usually brief meetings.
The lines of communication between parents and teachers should be open from the first school bell of the year. An introductory e-mail should have been sent (see my previous post) to the teacher, follow – up contacts have been made and you have attended curriculum night and open house. You have gotten their attention and the teacher now knows (hopefully) that you are involved and cooperative parents. Now it’s time to get specific. Use parent/teacher conferences to ask specific questions because by now, specific areas of concern, or at least areas of interest have become apparent. Most of the time teachers have a form that they have filled out with information that they must share with you. Let them talk first and get this out of the way, but be attentive because your questions may get answered or there may be follow up questions that arise. Maybe your child is doing well academically, but socially she is feeling a bit left out. Or, maybe your student wants to become more involved in extra curricular activities but doesn’t know how to go about it. Make a note of things that have come to your attention and discuss it with the teacher face to face. This serves two purposes: 1) you will get your questions answered and 2) you will find out just how well the teacher knows your child. Today’s classrooms are often over crowded and teachers are often lacking in classroom support. Unfortunately, what that can mean is that unless your child is an over achiever, disruptive or performing behind the class, they often can be overlooked. You don’t want this to happen to your kid and, as the parent, it’s your job to bring the teacher’s focus back to your student.
The parent/teacher conference isn’t intended to be a negative experience although, don’t you just love the expressions on your children’s faces when you tell them that you have and appointment with their teacher? I always get a little kick out it. On the contrary, the conference is intended to help the student. Not belittle. Not berate. Not humiliate. The goal is to encourage, to uplift, to provide constructive criticism and to assist. It’s for THE STUDENT! It’s not a referendum on your parenting skills, your genetic ability to make a perfect child or your own intelligence. It’s all about THE STUDENT! With this in mind, when my older kids started middle school, I made them go with me to meet with the teacher. After all, since it’s all about them, they need to hear it straight from the teacher and they need to be able to give feedback of their own. In so doing, I have experienced both children who suddenly backed down from their complaints about their teacher when sitting face to face and having to answer for their own behavior and/or performance; and I’ve had the teacher that had to do the same.
Look, there’s no way of getting around this because parent/teacher conferences are kind of like a fact of life. In a weird way, I kind of look forward to them because I get to talk about one of my favorite subjects – my kids. What it boils down to is the fact that attitude is everything. So….
1) Show up!
2) Be positive!
3) Be specific!
4) Be helpful!
Good luck and have a happy conference. 🙂