Parent-Teacher Conferences: Working as a Team
Parent-teacher conferences are an opportunity to establish better communication between parents and teachers. Since children are different at home and in school, both the parent and the teacher gain in understanding the child and can, therefore, be more effective in helping him or her. The teacher may be very surprised to learn that what she thought was a humorous way of dealing with the child was actually making the child feel belittled. The parent may learn that the teacher feels the child is not giving school his best effort. The teacher may learn that the child is distracted because the family is going through a difficult time. Of course, many parents are pleasantly surprised to hear how much better behaved the child is in school than at home.
Before the conference
Preparing for the conference can make the experience more rewarding. Ask your child if he has concerns or anything that he would like you to communicate to the teacher. Depending on the child's age, discuss whether or not family problems should be mentioned. If you are concerned about your child's work, keep copies of material that illustrate your concerns. If only one parent of a two-parent household can attend the conference, it is helpful to take notes or bring a tape recorder to share the findings with the absent partner. In order to gain information about your child's behavior and progress, you might prepare some questions. Here are some possible examples:
- Does he share and take turns?
- Does he focus during large-group activities? Small-group activities?
- Is he self-directed in choosing activities during free time or does he need your help?
- What are his favorite activities?
- Is he willing to take risks?
- Is he able to settle conflicts verbally?
- Does he prefer working alone or with other children?
- Is he a leader or follower or combination?
- Should I help her with homework or do you prefer that it be totally her work?
- Is it better for her to leave blank what she doesn't understand or should I try to explain it?
- Should I correct her homework?
- Do you have a means of communicating with parents if she isn't doing her homework?
- Does she follow directions?
- Is there a time that you meet with children who need some extra help?
- Are there any indications of academic problems?
- Is she sensitive to the needs of others?
- Does her choice of friends interfere with her ability to focus on academic work?
- Do you see any social or emotional warning signs?
Most parents feel some degree of anxiety as they wait outside the classroom for their turn to hear how their child is doing in school. The degree of anxiety depends on several variables. If the child has an easy temperament and has previously been a successful student, the parent feels relatively confident. If the child has a more difficult temperament and has had some rocky school experiences, the parent is bound to feel more nervous. Parents can't help but feel that they are being judged as parents by the teacher. It is hard for parents not to measure their own success by their child's success. These feelings may be further complicated by the parent's own school experience. If the parent was not a good student, approaching a teacher will stir up past experiences and feelings of inadequacy and arouse even more anxiety. Some years the teacher-student match is better than others. Obviously, it is easier if the match is a good one. However, parents must remember that life will not be tailor-made for their child and it is helpful for the child to learn to deal with different personalities.
Parents who have easy children who are good students do not generally seek advice on parent-teacher conferences, so this article is geared to those with more challenging children, although there is one piece of advice for parents of good students: Never tell a teacher that your child is bored. This makes the teacher feel that you do not think he or she is a good teacher. There are many reasons why a child might say he's bored. It often means that something is hard or tedious for him which he doesn't want to put the effort into mastering. If the work is truly at a lower level than the child is capable of achieving, it would be wiser to talk to an administrator about placement. If there are no other placement options, talk to the teacher about possible enrichment activities without in any way attacking the teacher. These problems are generally not as troublesome as having a child who struggles.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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