I have been on both sides of the parent/teacher conference table – first as a teacher for eight years, and now as a parent for the past seven years. With parent/teacher conferences rapidly approaching, I thought I’d share some of my expertise so parents and teachers can both make the most of their student’s conference time.
As parents, we could all spend hours talking about our little darlings. And trust me when I say, even if it is only October, your child’s teacher knows a lot about your child already. But, with only about 15 minutes of time and anywhere from 20 to 30 conferences to get through, there are several things both parents and teachers can do to make the most of that short time.
- Be prepared. When parents arrive, the teacher should have a table ready with adult-sized chairs and all the students’ report cards laid out in the order of the conferences (I would stack the report cards from last conference to first and turn them over to protect privacy). The parents should come with any questions or concerns they might have thus far.
- Respect privacy. The teacher should have a place in the hall for parents to wait until it is their conference time – preferably with a class-made book or wall artwork for parents to enjoy. The door should be closed during conferences. If it is, do not enter until the teacher opens the door to let you in. If the conference ahead of you is running over, don’t barge in; rather knock politely to let the teacher and previous family know you are there.
- Watch the time. Parents should be on time (even a little early) for their child’s conference. Teachers need to maximize the short time they have for the conference by moving quickly and efficiently through the report card, elaborating on areas of need. Remember, this is a snapshot of your child’s achievement so far. This is not the time to discuss IEPs, room parties, twisted tales of friendship drama, or your latest Thirty-One party. If you feel you need more time to discuss an issue that has been on your mind, request more time on another day. Most teachers are very accommodating and willing to further discuss any concerns you have.
- Take notes. The teacher should take notes on any concerns the parents may have so she can follow-up in the weeks after the conference. She should have a note pad and pens available for parents to take notes on items they want to remember.
- Provide examples. Teachers should have examples of students’ work ready to show parents – both areas of strength and of need should be provided. She should also have any notes she has made for herself on your child’s work or behavior so she can refer to them during the conference. Parents should come with ideas and strategies that work for their child at home.
- Follow up. The teacher should follow up on parents’ questions and concerns by sending an e-mail, making a phone call, or arranging another short conference in about a week or two. Parents should reinforce and share with their child what was talked about at conferences. They should also contact the teacher if anything about the report card or their child’s work is still unclear, confusing, or troubling.
- Balance the positives and negatives. Any teacher worth her incredibly high paying salary (cough, cough) will highlight both the student’s strengths and weaknesses – no matter how hard either may seem to find. Every student has something he does well and something that could improve. In sharing the report card with the child, parents should give both positive praise and helpful advice.
- Involve the student. There is no reason why the student shouldn’t be present during the report card conference. That way, he knows firsthand what is being discussed, and he can see how much both the teacher and his parents care about his education.
The last and most important tip is for the parents – show up! As a teacher, I was shocked and a little saddened at how many parents didn’t bother showing up for conferences or following up to get their child’s report card. If you have to work or are out of town or got so busy that it slipped your mind, call the teacher. She will be more than happy to set aside another time to talk with you. And remember, a child will succeed if his education is a collaboration between home and school.