As a parent and a teacher, I’ve been on both sides of the parent-teacher conference table. When I’m on the teacher’s side, I’m there to answer any questions you might have regarding your child’s performance, classroom activities, rules and expectations. When I’m on the parent’s side, I want to know how I can extend classroom learning into our home and how to help reinforce my child’s academic strengths (and work on the weaknesses).
Having sat on both sides of the table, I know how frustrating it is to be the teacher explaining weaknesses to parents (who’d rather make excuses than listen to constructive criticism) and to be the parent who feels like a failure if my child is not up to speed on a subject. Many times, we see ourselves in our children and it’s easy to despair or feel defensive. On that note, let’s all remember that we’re both there for the children—if we don’t work together, nothing will work.
The following tips will help your family get the most out of parent-teacher conferences:
Be there. Even if your child is excelling in school, teachers still want to talk to you. Together, can you both find a way to encourage your child to go beyond classroom work and engage her in extracurricular activities that will keep her interested and achieving?
If you can’t make the scheduled conference, call or e-mail the teacher. Most will be happy to meet with you some other time or discuss matters over the phone or via e-mail.
Sadly, most of the parents I want to hear from the most never show up.
If a child is having trouble in school—be it academic or behavioral, I tend to ask the following questions: How much rest is your child getting each night? How much TV is your child watching (including video game time)? How much time per day outside of school does your child spend on homework? Overtired kids make for poor learners and kids need to have a scheduled home study time—video games and TV need to wait until homework is completed.
Older children should keep an agenda (in many schools it’s a requirement), tracking assignment due dates, club/sports meetings, etc. It helps them to take control of their own education and keeping good tabs on due dates and appointments is a skill that will transfer to their adult lives. If your child has an agenda, bring it to the conference meeting so your child’s teacher can check that she is keeping track correctly.
As a teacher, it’s not my job to pry, but please let me know if there are any changes at home that might affect your child’s school life (such as a new baby on the way, a pending divorce, a death in the family, etc.). We can work together to create a transition plan if necessary and I’ll remember to give your child a little extra care and attention.
Our parent-teacher conference has a goal: to create a plan of action. We’ll need to decide on a way to communicate (phone, e-mail, weekly notes sent home with the child, etc.) and touch base on a regular basis to see if our plan works.
Ask questions. If you don’t know the answer to the following questions, please ask your child’s teacher:
• What skills will my child be expected to master this year? Ask for copies of the appropriate state standards or look them up online at isbe.state.il.us. Ask the teacher to show you examples of in-class assignments and projects that meet the standards.
• How do you evaluate the students in your classroom? Ask how students are tested and what rubrics teachers use to determine student grades. Then together come up with some ideas to reinforce classroom learning and prepare your child for tests and quizzes at home.
• How do you accommodate different learners in your classroom? Every child learns in a unique way. Classroom instruction must be differentiated to meet the needs of every student.
• What topics will you be focusing on this year? Your child will gain a better understanding of study topics if you match classroom learning with family activities. For example, if we’re studying Native Americans this year, I’ll be happy to suggest some library books and museum trips to reinforce what we’re learning in school at home (ever been to the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian in Evanston?). We both need to work at making learning fun and exciting.
I am honored to be a teacher and I want you to know that I am, as are other dedicated teachers, working my best to bring out the best in your child.