Parent-teacher conferences are downright scary to some parents. Other parents feel fine about them. Often parents go expecting the worst and are too emotionally involved to get the best out of them. Conferences should work both ways – the teacher sharing information with you and you sharing information with the teacher. Here are a few suggestions for making the situation a little less stressful:
- Try to go with an open mind. Don’t assume that you are going to hear something “negative” about your child. On the other hand, don’t be disappointed if the teacher doesn’t see all of your child’s good points. And be on time.
- Take the time beforehand to write down any and all questions you have about the curriculum, your child’s progress, etc. It is easy to forget even a very important question when you are nervous. Ask your child if s/he has any concerns you should discuss with the teacher.
- At the conference, don’t hesitate to ask the teacher to be more specific if you are unclear about what s/he is telling you. “John is having trouble adjusting to school” could mean John is quiet and shy or John is constantly picking fights – two very different situations. Remember to raise all your child’s concerns.
- Try to separate clearly any problems into two types:
- Academic: In these cases, find out exactly which academic skills your child needs to work on and get the teacher’s specific suggestions for what you can do at home (i.e. if your child needs to work on reading, find out if listening to him/her read aloud would be more useful than working on pre-reading skills). You might want to make another appointment when the teacher will have more time to show you some additional ways you can work with your child.
- Behavioral: Again, find out exactly what your child is doing (crying, talking too much, daydreaming, fighting, etc.) that is interfering with his or her progress. Don’t hesitate to give the teacher your suggestions for handling the behavior problem (remember, you know your child best). If there are things going on in your child’s life which might explain some behavior, say so. You don’t have to be too personal. Just letting a teacher know that your family is going through a divorce or a favorite pet recently died may put your child’s behavior in better perspective for the teacher.
- If a conference really upsets you, take the time afterward to evaluate it – either by yourself or with another person. Teachers are humans, too ... and if you strongly feel that a criticism is unwarranted or petty – test your feelings with someone else who knows your child well. And, take the time to schedule another conference with the teacher to try to clear the air. Maybe some miscommunication has occurred. It’s important to let the teacher know the extent of your concern.
- Talk honestly with your child about the conference. Be supportive. If academic skills need to be sharpened, set aside time to do so. (Remember, however, that the more fun one has while learning, the more one learns.) Also, remember that learning specific skills doesn’t happen overnight, i.e. you really can’t teach Jennie the entire alphabet the day after the conference! Praise any progress and minimize the criticism when working with your child at home. If you end up in a fight every time you try to work with your child, you need either a new approach or someone else to do the tutoring.
- If behavior is the problem, ask your child what s/he thinks is going on. Children can be very insightful, especially if the query is put in a low-key way. You can’t accompany your child to school everyday. But you can let your child know clearly what you expect. Sometimes a three-way conference – parent-teacher-child – may be helpful.
Persistent Problems: Any problem, academic or behavioral, which persists may need an outside opinion. If either you or your child’s teacher suspect some type of learning disability, you have the right by federal law to a free, professional evaluation. Contact your school principal and the director of your school district’s special education program. Some school districts are more helpful in this area than others – if you have any questions about your rights to an evaluation, contact BANANAS for referrals to advocacy groups that can assist you.
Reprinted with the permission of BANANAS, Inc. © 2007 BANANAS