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Tips on how to get the most from parent-teacher conferences

As parents rework schedules to squeeze into the 15-minute parent-teacher conference that is a rite of fall in schools everywhere, we wonder: What good is this doing? Not much if you don’t prepare.

I have one child in first grade, so most of my conferences are ahead of me, but I know I am bad at the conference thing. I go in hoping to learn what his day is like, how much he’s learning, where he’s lacking, what we can do to help, and, frankly, what the teacher thinks of him. Is he kind to the other kids? Does he have friends? Does he raise his hand and seem confident? Or is he that annoying little guy who cuts up his crayon box and then hides it in his desk?

Those are big expectations to pack into a few precious moments with a teacher who is sitting next to a 2-foot-tall stack of folders for the 20-plus parents she will meet that day.

This conference is not the only time you can talk to your child’s teacher. It’s a good checking-in moment, but you should always be able to discuss your child with his or her teacher.

How to get the most out of the quick conversation? We gathered a few tips:

∎ Send a short email to teachers at the beginning of the school year outlining a child’s strengths and areas of improvement. State what your child’s goals are and what your expectations are for the student and teacher.

∎ Don’t become defensive if something “unflattering but true” is said about the child. In other words, advocate for your child, but also show the teacher that you are a partner in helping your child do well.

∎ Ask to see your child’s work. There is no better way to see how your child is progressing.

∎ Ask the teacher if your child is putting forth his or her best effort.

∎ Ask the teacher to explain. Every profession has its own jargon, and if you don’t understand what is being said, ask.

∎ Sum up what you think has been said. This will make sure you both agree on any decisions you have made about your child. If necessary, ask to meet again.

Finally, don’t forget to talk to your child about the conference. When my son was in kindergarten, he was nervous that I was going to talk to his teacher. “What do you think she’ll say?” I asked. “I don’t know, but it can’t be good,” he replied.

That wasn’t the case, but stressing the positive helped him feel better about my future communications with his teacher.

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