As a teacher and parent, I've been on both sides of the desk for conferences. Some have been more successful than others, and I've come to the conclusion that it's the preparation beforehand that makes the difference. I'd like to offer a few tips on how you, as a parent, can get the most helpful information from your child's teachers on parent-teacher conference day.
1. Don't bring your child with you (unless the teacher requests it): There are times it's helpful to have a parent/teacher/student meeting, such as when strategizing study skills, organization, or other things where direct communication will facilitate a solution. However, unless you are meeting with that purpose, it doesn't allow for as much information to be shared between parent and teacher. The dynamic is totally different because when there's a student in the room, the teacher tends to talk to the student. There may be things I want to say to the parent that I wouldn't say in front of their child.
2. Ask the teacher how your child is doing socially: A big advantage of attending a school as opposed to home schooling or cyber-school is the social skills that students begin to master only by being forced to interact daily with their peers. For some children, the main stress of school has nothing to do with academics. By middle school, kids aren't telling you much about their social lives, but their teachers may be able to give you some insight.
3. Come with an open mind: As a parent, I have to remind myself of this often, but my children's grades and behavior are not a reflection of who I am as a person. They have free will and will make mistakes and decisions that I don't approve of. It doesn't make me a bad parent. As a teacher, I remember this too. My goal in working with parents is to be a problem-solver, not a judge. If you are not willing to be open-minded about your child's challenges, you may walk away from the conference feeling defeated instead of empowered.
4. Bring specific questions or concerns: The toughest opening for a teacher is, "So how's my kid doing in your class?" Since we only have a few minutes to talk, I'd like to know right away which areas are of concern to you.
5. Share personal information when you can: There are times parents have called to report that a grandparent or a beloved pet recently passed away, there has been a change in home environment for a child, or they are overcoming a serious illness. All of this information helps teachers because students often look or act different in the classroom without explaining what's bothering them. It's especially important to tell teachers if your child has been evaluated for learning disabilities or health issues. As a teacher, I have worked as a partner with parents in monitoring kids with food allergies, asthma, and changes in ADHD medication. We are the eyes and ears when you can't be and can often provide information that will aid you and your child's health care provider.
6. If your child's teacher doesn't provide some positive feedback, please ask for it: The last thing you want is to walk away from a conference feeling sad or hopeless about your child's school experience. Even kids with the toughest behavioral or academic challenges have redeeming characteristics and good days that we as teachers can point out. If your child is unhappy in school, you may be the emotional dump at home who hears about all the things that went wrong during the day. You didn't get to witness your children having fun with their friends at lunch or delivering a great presentation to their peers or answering a question that stumped everyone else in the class. We need to focus and build on these little victories together.
7. Tell your teacher what works well at home and what you need help with: You may feel like you're on your own once your child gets home, but teachers often have tips that may help studying and getting organized at home go more smoothly too. If getting out the door in the morning is an issue, or getting homework done before ten p.m., please ask. Many of your children's teachers were or are currently raising children. I feel fortunate to have that "insider's perspective" on how best to work with my children academically and I'm more than happy to share my thoughts because happy, well-prepared students make my workdays pleasant.
8. Take notes: Especially if you are meeting with more than one teacher, you will be hit with a lot of information, too much to process all at once. Taking notes gives you an opportunity to look back on what you learned, possible areas to follow up with the teacher on later, and a chance to see patterns (maybe your child always forgets homework that's due on Monday, or something else that you may be able to adjust).
9. Tell us what your child loves to do at home: Parents have told me about non-academic skills their children have, unusual hobbies, or passions that lie outside the classroom. When I know these things, I can work to connect them to what I teach, making school more interesting for students and helping them feel like they are essential people in the classroom.
10. Ask your child if he or she thinks there is something you should ask or address: Teachers encourage their students to be advocates for themselves, but there are times kids feel intimidated to talk to a teacher about something. A parent can be the intermediary, at least to get the conversation started.