Around the same time that the pumpkin-flavored coffee drinks appear in your local coffee shop, another annual event will take place that may send you reeling like a triple shot of espresso. Yes, it’s almost that time of the year: parent-teacher conferences. Your child means the world to you, so meeting face to face with the person who spends as many or more waking hours of the day as you do with your student can be daunting.
Attending a parent-teacher conference does not need to be stressful or confrontational. With some basic tips, communicating with your child’s teacher can be a fulfilling and beneficial means to a successful academic year for your child. Just remember the “4 C’s” for a successful conference.
If today’s political climate in our country has taught us anything, it’s that we need to step back and remember how to be civil, even in the face of our differences. Your child’s teacher is a professional educator who wants the same thing that you do, for your child to have a successful year. Work as a team toward that goal. Be kind. Be positive. Be professional. If necessary, request the school counselor or an administrator to sit in on the conference.
While email is efficient and expedient, it is also faceless and easily open to misinterpretation. When writing an email to your child’s teacher, be mindful that your words may be read by someone who taught all morning, had a five-minute lunch break before going out for recess duty and then taught all afternoon —ending the day with a screen full of emails to answer, papers to grade, lessons to plan and bulletin boards to decorate. Start and end your emails with pleasant comments, and ask for a phone call or a short meeting to discuss anything serious. Don’t go over the teacher’s head with issues unless you have discussed them together first.
CARING is sharing
Your child’s teacher needs to know when things at home may interfere with performance in the classroom. Is there a new baby on the way or already at home taking more of Mom’s attention? Have financial issues changed what after-school activities they can join? Did your child’s best friend change schools and now there is no one to hang out with at recess? Are there social issues at school such as bullying or being left off of a party invitation list? Communicating this to teachers will help them be on the lookout for your child and ease some of the tensions they are facing. Teachers can be your best advocates.
CARVE OUT time
It’s important to be involved in your children’s work. This does not mean doing their math homework, writing their essay for English or making the science fair board, but do spend a few minutes daily talking about their school day. Avoid yes/no questions. Ask instead, “Which problem was the most difficult on the math test?” or “What sport are you playing in PE this week?” Once a week, go through their backpack and review returned graded work, look over their note-taking skills and read a chapter of a textbook together. Most public school systems have addressed parent-teacher conferences on their websites, offering tips for parents to have more successful communications with the faculty. Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), the largest public school district in Maryland and the 14th largest in the country, has a two-page flyer on its website for parents seeking information about parent-teacher conferences. MCPS advises, “When parents and teachers talk with each other, each person can share important information about the child’s academic progress, talents, and needs.”
Baltimore County Public Schools also has numerous parent resources on its website, including a page of suggested questions for parents of elementary schoolers (see sidebar). Parents don’t need to ask all of the questions to get an understanding of how their child is doing in the classroom — the questions are merely a guide to get the communication started. Search bcps.org for more resources and also familiarize yourself with Schoology, new this year for the county, as teachers can share a lot more through this system.
After your parent-teacher conference, don’t just file away the student work shared by the teacher or the notes you took during the meeting. The National Education Association (NEA) website, in its tips for parents on parent-teacher conferences, says, “Start immediately on the action plan you and the teacher put together. Discuss the plan with your child and track his progress. Stay in touch with your child’s teacher throughout the year with regularly scheduled report card conferences that can keep the communication lines open.”
For more tips from the NEA on parent-teacher conferences, go to nea.org.