Surviving parent-teacher conferences


Make the meeting work for you

Chicago Parent File Photo Parent-teacher conferences are a chance for the adults and the child to talk, but should be part of year-long communications.

Karen Nakagawa, a mother of two elementary school students, recalls her first parent-teacher conference with a hint of nostalgia.

"I wasn't nervous; I was very excited and really optimistic," says Nakagawa, about meeting her son's teacher. "I really feel that to know my children well is to know what they go through at school."

Experts say that is exactly why parent-teacher conferences should create delight, not fright. While some parents, such as Nakagawa, look forward to these meetings, there are ways to make the experience easier for everyone.

Nakagawa advises arriving armed with a list of questions. The National PTA agrees. Its Web site also suggests parents talk to their child before the conference; address problems during the conference and review the discussion after the conference.

But parent-teacher communication should start before the conference, says Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education. "The communication between the parent and the teacher has to be ongoing throughout the year."

She suggests parents and teachers e-mail each other or write notes to one another in a spiral notebook, carried to-and-from school in the student's backpack. "Anything that comes up gets communicated immediately," Woestehoff says. That "changes the whole dynamic of the relationship."

The dynamics of parent-teacher conferences themselves are changing. At some schools, students participate in the conference-something Woestehoff endorses. "Why sit around and talk about somebody who's not there?" Woestehoff asks. "The student will see that the parent and teacher care about them and are working together for their best interest."

Juli Ross is an assistant professor at National-Louis University and a fourth-grade teacher at the Baker Demonstration School, a lab school of the university that promotes individual development. She tells teachers they should go into the conference with a good attitude-and remember parents have insightful information about the child that could help later in the classroom.

"Teachers really have to understand the whole child," Ross says. For parent-teacher conference tips from the National PTA, visit

Jenna Naranjo, Medill News Service


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