Spring is here, and so are your child’s progress reports. Final projects, end-of-the-year exams, and graduation will arrive sooner than you think. Luckily, many teachers hold second-semester conferences, or try to allocate more time to chat with parents. Whether in person or over the phone, these chats are typically short (believe it or not, some conferences can be as brief as five minutes). However, parents should prepare for the meeting to most out of this important check-up on your child's progress.

Simply put, if you do your homework and know what’s going on in your child’s class, the conference won't be as daunting. “Most correspondence goes well, but it’s smoother when parents are aware of my expectations, grading, and homework policy,” says Kevin Kochakji, a seventh grade social studies teacher in Los Angeles, California. To help parents keep track of their child’s homework, as well as important school announcements, he posts class information on Edline.com, which hosts Web sites for K-12 educators, like School Loop or K12web.

Kochakji begins conferences on a high note, and suggests parents should do the same. Whether the comment is, “My child is learning a lot,” or “She really likes you,” starting off with enthusiasm eases nerves.

To start out, here are some general ideas for ways to prepare for the meeting, and general ideas for helping it go smoothly.

  • Jot down questions beforehand that you would like to ask, such as ways to help your child at home with a specific subject, or whether he is struggling in a certain area
  • Remember to bring a pen and paper to take notes
  • Bring a folder with several assignments, tests, or essays and find a few recurring errors or skills you’d like to discuss
  • Be flexible, as you probably won’t cover as much ground as you would like
  • Avoid irrelevant conversation

What types of questions are the most constructive? We asked teachers what questions from parents are useful in steering conferences in the right direction. Some examples include: 

  • What goals can we set up at home that align with classroom objectives?
  • How can my child finish on a strong(er) note?
  • What are some activities you’ll do for the remainder of the year?
  • What subjects will you put greater emphasis on?
  • How much reading should my child be doing at home?
  • Can you recommend any books to read over the summer?
  • How can we help our child with leadership skills or social behavior?

What about the not-so-helpful questions that teachers dread? Here are some questions that teachers identified as less time-effective or inappropriate:

  • Can we go over the entire report card?
  • Why did you give my daughter this grade?
  • To what high school (or college) do you think he could get accepted?
  • How many years of teaching experience do you have?
  • How are you going to fix my child?
  • What class will my son be in next year?
  • Can you place my child in next year’s class with a friend?

The parent and teacher relationship should be cooperative, not combative. Remember, a progress report is exactly that, and parents shouldn’t expect final grades or decisive remarks about their child’s academic future at this point. A conference is most successful when both parents and teachers can talk freely about a child’s educational and personal growth, and work together to ensure that the learning is going strong.