As a school administrator, I’ve seen and been involved with a lot of different parent-teacher conferences. Teachers are encouraged to contact parents for both positive and negative reasons, and sometimes it’s necessary to have a face-to-face conversation. It can be difficult for parents to understand the proper procedures and protocols for parent-teacher conferences, even if we appreciate everything that our teachers do. Fortunately, I have four tips that will help you navigate your child’s parent-teacher conference and give you a positive experience.
DO: Know who your child’s teachers are. When I interviewed for my first teaching position, I was getting ready to meet with the principal of the school. An angry father came into the office and demanded to know why his child was failing every subject. The principal calmly asked the father who his child’s teachers were, and he told him he had no idea. The principal, after telling the father he would meet with him shortly, came back into the office and said, “That’s the first problem.” He was right: if you don’t know who your child’s teachers are, it already shows that you aren’t monitoring who your child spends their day with.
DON’T: Drop in unexpected. Teachers are professionals, just like doctors, lawyers, and business executives. Unfortunately, they are not often given the same privileges or courtesies (never mind money). If a teacher has an opportunity to prepare for the meeting on his or her own schedule, it will make the actual conference go much more smoothly. Unexpected visits might mean awkward interruptions when children are in class, or disrupting a teacher during a lunch break. And, in this day and age, it is unsafe to appear anywhere in a school building if you have not followed protocol and checked in at the office.
DO: Encourage your child to take ownership. Nothing is more detrimental to a conference than for the parent to blast the teacher without discussing his or her child’s responsibilities. I look at learning as a triangle: it cannot be complete without all three—the teacher, the parent(s), and the child—sides doing their part. The habits that children establish in school will follow them into college and beyond.
DON’T: Focus solely on the grade. Straight A’s seem ideal, but the letter grade may not reflect whether or not your child is getting everything out of school that he or she can. Is there something more they can be accomplishing? It is possible that a student who experiences academic success early in school will “coast” as they approach intermediate grades, and this can create a lackluster set of study habits. Additionally, if your child is struggling grade-wise in a class, you need to evaluate whether or not they’re still learning the material. Just because a student has a low grade in a class doesn’t mean they aren’t learning anything; they may just be struggling with a particular type of assignment in the class.
DO: Hold the teacher accountable for grading procedures. If a student earns a certain grade, the teacher should be able to explain why the student received what they did. Make sure to ask about the grading rubric for the class so that the teacher can explain the breakdown in percentages of grades. A student may have 15 perfect grades, but if they are all homework, that will only take the student so far until they reach quizzes and tests. Most classes now are not based on total points, but percentages.
DON’T: Complain to an administrator until you talk to the teacher. If you call an administrator about an issue in class, one of the first questions to come up will be, “Have you spoken with the teacher?” Until this happens, nothing of merit will arise from the conversation. Make sure to communicate with the teacher first, particularly with regard to grading and behavior. There’s often no need to involve an administrator. Additionally, don’t be alarmed if a teacher asks for an administrator to be present during a conference. Sometimes, particularly if they are less experienced, they just like to feel as though they have support.
DO: Keep the meeting about your child. A parent-teacher conference is not a good place to bring up what your child’s friends say about the teacher or what other parents think This conversation is about you, your child, and how they are doing in class. The topic needs to stay on that. If a teacher veers off course and starts to talk about another student, politely remind them that you are interested in how your child is doing.
DON’T: Share too much personal information in the conversation. Because of the nature of teaching, teachers are privy to more information about a child than most. However, this should not be a license to share every negative thing you have to say about your child’s other parent, your divorce, family issues, gossip, or other non-relevant information. Keep the information you share centered on your child. If the information you are sharing is pertinent medical, academic, or social information, then the teacher may be able to use that information to help your child be more successful in class.
Teachers understand that you are looking out for your child. They want you to be confident in their classroom expertise and in their ability to encourage learning and growth. By using these dos and don’ts, I hope you can positively shape your next parent-teacher conference and give your children the best opportunity for success.