Originally posted Nov. 2, 2008
Hold onto your hats, folks, it's parent - teacher conference
time again! Parent-teacher conferences can be daunting,
especially for the uninitiated. You glow with pride one
moment, and then find yourself sweating about 'areas needing
improvement' the next, all while perched on an itty-bitty chair
that makes your knees lock up and your butt ache. What's
worse, teachers must cover a lot of ground during this sprint
through little Billy's last ten weeks of school, often while their
next customers lurk in the hall right outside the door. These
encounters sometimes feel more like a gallop to the finish line
than a meeting of the minds. I recall one conference in
particular where I thought "Whoa, slow down lady, I think I had a
question three paragraphs ago …"
Remember the theme song to the Lone Ranger (the finale
of Rossini's William Tell Overture), wherein the trumpets
herald a dizzying charge to an invisible finish line a mile
away? Put simply, parent - teacher conferences can leave us
all breathless - teachers, too. I imagine they all arrive at
their homes after a tedious day of conferences and collapse
fully-clothed across their beds, their jaws slack and eyeballs
rolled back into their heads...
Before you book that long weekend at the waterpark thinking
you'll just play hooky and skip the whole dang ordeal, consider
this: whether you're already anticipating your next one or just
gearing up for your first, conferences can be fabulous
opportunities to help your children 'make the grade' and enjoy
their school experience - especially if you prepare.
For starters, talk to your kid. What's school like for
him? What's working and what doesn't? Brainstorm and
prioritize a list of questions and concerns and write them
down. While it's not always comfortable to do so, plan to
mention any changes in your family situation that may impact your
child's performance. If you or your child has special needs,
don't hesitate to engender the support of an advocate. This
can be a counselor, clergyperson or friend whom you believe will
help you to articulate your child's and your concerns. Don't
be bashful about asking for a translator to be present if you are
not fluent in English.
Once you're at the conference, have your list, paper and pen
handy. You'll want to take notes as the details can get
buried in a deluge of information. Don't be afraid to pause
and ask for clarification if you need it, and remember to take a
deep breath and be patient with reports of problem behaviors or
poor performance. Resist the temptation to personalize this
feedback as comments about you or reflections on your
When the opportunity for questions arises, I always ask my kids'
teachers what they like best about them. My son's astute
second-grade teacher once commented that Noah "loves a
challenge." She really 'got' him, and that has been a helpful
observation upon which we often reflect. When I asked my
daughter's last teacher what occurred to her when she thought of
Holly, I got such a surprising response that my eyes filled up with
tears (partly out of guilt: she mentioned a tender poem that my
daughter had written about hearts that I could not recall - but
feigned familiarity with - and promptly turned the house
upside-down to rescue). Sometimes we forget that while
they're churning out lesson plans and homework assignments to keep
pace with stiff curriculum requirements our children's teachers are
also developing relationships with them. They have a unique
perspective on our children's development and can be valuable
resources to us as partners in their progress.
After you leave your conference, compare notes with your partner
or advocate. Decide how to respond to conference details and
how you'll discuss them with your child. He'll be on pins and
needles! Remember to lead with positive comments and sandwich
any constructive criticisms with affirmations. If questions
remain or concerns persist request another meeting, and involve
other school personnel whenever warranted. Letting issues
fester unresolved can set your child up for a difficult year.
So give those parent-teacher conferences a chance, folks.
After I got over my anxiety about my first one, when I needlessly
worried that I'd be told that my son was caught swearing in
Kindergarten, I realized they're not so bad.
Except for the chairs.
Tips for Parents:
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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