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Why one Chicago mom thinks you should dress up for school conferences

My first school conference didn’t go so well. My husband was out of town, so I was going in alone. And I was pretty tired and looking it. Ponytail. Glasses. Big comfy sweater. The baby had been awake a lot the night before the meeting. But this was a kindergarten conference. How big of a deal could it be? I was on time. The baby had a sitter. I couldn’t screw this up.

I was wrong. The teacher launched right into academics—test scores, reading levels and assessments. I wanted insight into my 5-year-old kid as a student. I wasn’t as interested in the numbers, but they seemed to be important. That really surprised me. My son is taking standardized tests?

I sunk into my chair. What was all of this? It was overwhelming. I sat there uncomfortable, and I listened.

And then, I started to feel beat out of a race to see who could represent my son better. I felt I lost that day because I stayed quiet. I felt unprepared to bring forth the gusto I needed and to offer the questions I had because I was unprepared, and on the most basic level I was uncomfortable and underdressed.

You want to be looking your best and thinking straight as an arrow, so you’re not caught off guard. The two so often go hand-in-hand. You want to be perceived as more than the parent. You want to be impressive; you want to look professional.

What I learned most of all that day is to be ready for anything at school. Be ready in the moment to say you don’t understand. Be ready to share your goals for your child as your teacher shares hers. Be ready to ask the right questions. You need to be on the same page as your child’s teacher. Your child’s success at school depends upon your discussions with his teacher and his performance.

Had I done a few things differently, I could have gone home that day feeling reassured that we understood each other and my child instead of confused.

I dress up for all conferences now—and for the first day of school. It’s usually a casual dress, because it’s easy. I’ll put on lipstick, because it stands out. And I might wear jewelry. That’s the baseline. I want the teachers to know I take this as seriously as they do. I want my son’s teachers and principal to care about him a lot and to take notice of our family’s commitment to school.

To kick things off, I want to give a great first impression.

Samantha Sordyl is a Chicago mom of three.

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