Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Do's and Don'ts of Parent/Teacher Conferences

Don't worry. This isn't what parent/teacher conferences are like. (Well, hopefully not.) 

This is what they should be...

When I was teaching in the public school system, I always looked forward to parent - teacher conferences. They gave me a glimpse into the students' home lives. Even though I wasn't seeing my students in their home settings, I was able to see who they lived with, or in some cases had to deal with. How a child's parent represented himself certainly made an impression (good or bad) that influenced how I taught his child. For example, I had one third grader who was particularly timid and somewhat uptight. After meeting his fidgety father, who seemed to be on his best behavior suppressing his rage, everything about the child became perfectly clear to me. I found that an especially gentle approach to my teaching worked for this child, making him at ease and open to learning. This is just one example of oh so many, for I have taught hundreds of children during my career thus far, each and every one unique.

Any good teacher will be sizing you up, looking for any unspoken information that you can give her. Whether or not she will be doing this purposely, it is only natural to be influenced by first impressions. So, you will want to make a good one.

  • Relax. You and your child's teacher have something in common: what is in the best interest of your child. Remember, you are on the same team. 
  • Check out the classroom environment. Where is your child's assigned seat? Who is seated next to him? Are the classroom rules and expectations posted? Are they worded positively, or negatively? (Show respect vs. no hitting: the difference can give you some insight on the teacher's personality.) What kinds of things are accessible to the children (books, toys, math supplies, etc.)? 
  • Ask questions. How is my child adjusting to the routines? How does my child interact with the other children? How is he performing academically? What are you doing to ensure that he understands the concepts that are difficult for him? What are you doing to challenge him in areas at which he excels? What can I do at home to support your goals for my child's learning and behavior? Is there anything I can do to support you as his teacher (send in materials, volunteer in the classroom, cut out laminating at home, etc.)? Note: Only offer what you are really willing to do. If you agree to do something, then be reliable. 
  • Don't get upset. If you don't like what the teacher has to say, or how she is saying it, voice your feelings calmly and respectfully. Don't give her any excuse to make you out to be the villain. If you cannot resolve the issue peacefully, then bring it to a higher power; involve the principal or pre-school director. 
  • Don't be apologetic for your child. You cannot control what he does while at school. Whenever I had to deliver bad news to a parent, I was never expecting an apology. However, I often heard, "I'm so sorry. I will speak to him when I get home!" Instead, it would have been nice to hear, "What do you think prompted this behavior?" or, "What can we do to resolve this issue?"
  • Don't bombard the teacher with questions. Rather, let the conversation flow smoothly. Ask your most important questions first just in case you run out of time. 
  • Don't ask questions about your child during an open house where other parents are present, unless you are willing to have others hear what your child's teacher honestly has to say. Whenever a parent would ask me a question with 20 other people in the room, I always assumed that they were not concerned about confidentially on that topic and were not willing to wait to discuss it in private. Parent: "How is J doing? Is he staying focused during writing time?" Me: "Actually, he has been quite focused on one writing topic in particular. He keeps writing in his journal about how he can't wait to watch X-rated movies 'like mom and dad.' That reminds me, can we schedule a private parent/teacher conference?" (True story.)
  • Don't talk negatively about your child's teacher in the presence of your child. He needs to know that his parents and his teacher are on the same team. If you have an issue with the teacher, make sure she is aware of it. This goes for all other relationships in your life, so why wouldn't it include your child's teacher, someone who spends as much waking time with your child as you do? 
  • Don't accept anything less than the best for your child. You are his advocate. A child's success in academics is greatly influenced by the first 3 years in school, so you will want to do everything within your power to make those first 3 years excellent ones. As a parent, you have way more control than the school will let you believe. Don't be an overbearing, helicopter mom; but do be involved and supportive. When an issue arrises, as it surely will at some point, react in a way that sets a good example for your child while also showing him that you care and will do anything to protect him and ensure his academic success. 
Involved Parent + Strong Teacher = Successful Child

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