It’s happened to all of us. You open your child’s take-home folder, and there it is: the form to sign up for a parent-teacher conference. Whether you are eagerly awaiting this conference or dreading it enough to have heart palpitations, I am going to fill you in on the inside secrets to help you make the most out of your uninterrupted, face-to-face time with your child’s teacher!
I have been a public school teacher for 10 years. That equates to more than 400 parent conferences during which I have been seated at the teacher side of the table. This year, everything changed. This year, for the very first time, I was seated on the parent side of the table!
As a teacher, I have always eagerly awaited parent conferences. It brings me such joy to be able to share my students’ progress with their respective families and gain new insight and perspective into their individual lives.
As a parent, I was sweating bullets! What was this teacher going to say about my child? Was she where she needed to be academically? Does this teacher love my child as much as I do? Has my child shared all of my secrets, like that I listen to 90s rap music (edited, of course) in the morning or I sometimes let her eat ice cream for dinner? I was SO nervous!
Thankfully, the conference went off without a hitch. After the conference, I started thinking about how lucky I was to know the secrets I knew from so many years of being on the teacher side of the table.
If you have extremely specific questions regarding your child, email his or her teacher about a week in advance of your conference letting them know what you would like to discuss. There are several reasons this is imperative. First of all, answering certain questions may require a little research or prep work on the teacher’s part. For example, a question as simple as, “Suzy says she plays all alone at recess, and no one will play with her. Is this true? Does she really play alone?” could be challenging for a teacher who has had lunch — not recess — duty for the past three weeks to answer. By asking this question in advance of the conference, your child’s teacher will have time to speak with the teachers who are monitoring recess and get their feedback and input. Also, questions about scores on particular tests, assignments, or projects may not be at your child’s teacher’s fingertips at the time of the conference. By notifying the teacher in advance of your desire to discuss some of these topics, he or she will be able to pull everything needed and have it readily available for your conference. This creates a win/win situation for everyone!
It is perfectly acceptable, and, in fact, completely necessary to be candid, open, and honest with your child’s teacher. If your child suffered from a speech delay in the toddler years, or has a history of fine motor difficulties, please share this at your conference if you have not done so already. Information like this plays an integral role in your child’s education and the teacher’s ability to help him or her maximize their learning. Please also be candid with your concerns and feelings. I assure you no teacher will judge you for loving your child; advocating for him or her; or having concerns about his or her education, emotional stability, social skills, or future.
If your child’s teacher has provided you with information you feel you were completely in the dark about, you have full permission to reply that you are surprised, had no earthly idea, or need additional time to process the information. The importance of being candid is paramount here to improving communication and moving forward. If you feel that you or your child need something you are not receiving, ask clearly, directly, and politely for exactly what it is you need. For example, rather than saying, “I do not know how to help my child master his letter sounds,” or “My child doesn’t like school because she isn’t making any friends,” try asking specifically for resources to help your child at home. Also inquire whether your child’s teacher could recommend a counseling group for social skills or activities you could do at home to help with this skill. If you have a concern or problem, do not leave the conference without some sort of “next step” or action plan for tackling the issues.
Last but not least, no matter the circumstances, DO NOT PANIC! I realize this is so much more easily said than done when it comes to your child, but please trust me here. Less than desirable test scores, odd social behaviors, or any other surprises that sometimes come up in conferences are not the end of the world. Your child’s teacher is communicating this information with you so that together you can come up with a plan to help your child reach his or her full potential. This is a partnership, and your child’s teacher is reaching out to you to play a role in the planning, implementation, and follow-through of your child’s education. Please accept this offer!
Above all else, please remember that 99.99 percent of teachers in this world teach because they love teaching and adore children. Your child’s success and happiness is the the teacher’s number one priority. Whether he or she is your absolute most or least favorite teacher of all time, please do not forget to thank him or her for pouring love, knowledge, and opportunity into your child each day.