With our first trimester ending, parent conferences are just around the corner. In a couple of weeks, all 32 of my students will come with their parents to meet with me. I always look forward to parent conferences because I love to talk, and I love to meet people! In 18 years of teaching, though, I have had a lot of frustrating conferences.
I’ve been both a parent and a teacher during conferences. I know that both parents and teachers want what’s best for the student. I have never known a teacher to enjoy a student failing. I have never known a parent who didn’t want their child to do well. The parent/child/teacher trio is a team. The most powerful learning happens when all three collaborate. I’ve worked with parents to push along a struggling child. I’ve also worked with students and not needed to speak to parents. Sometimes the parent and the child team up to let the teacher know about issues at home that affect learning. I can make learning happen when any two sides of the team work, but the most powerful learning happens when we all work together.
In order to strengthen the team, I prepare for conferences by compiling test results and the report card, by noting any social or behavior issues, and by scheduling the meeting well in advance.
Here are some suggestions how parents can prepare for conferences:
1. Think about your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Talk with your child about the school work, their friends, and their behavior in class. Write down your questions so we can have a two-way conversation about learning. I’m not there to lecture you–the purpose of a conference is to collaborate as part of a learning team.
2. When final grades are posted, please don’t email the teacher and ask to change the grade. At the end of every grading period, I have multiple parents who say that their child deserves honor roll, and can I please change their one C to a B? Or they’ve had gold honor roll since fourth grade, can I please reconsider that B+? Remember that grades are not given, they are earned. If your student had a rough trimester, find out how to smooth it out for the next grading period. Set the expectation that your child can learn from their mistakes, not that the parent will make it better.
3. During the conference, it’s important that you talk as well as listen. The teacher will give suggestions about improving learning for your child. Ask how can you be involved in child’s learning. Find out how you can help teacher and how the teacher can help you. Involve your child in plans to improve homework completion or behavior. They are more likely to succeed if they participate in the goal-setting process.
4. When the teacher brings up academic or social problems, don’t play the blame game. Sometimes parents spend so much time blaming the teacher or making excuses for their child that no progress can be made. I teach sixth grade. The problems I see aren’t new, yet parents sometimes stare at me in shock. What, my child? Are you sure? Yes, and I’m the fourth teacher in a row to say so. If it’s a recurring problem, you have probably tried to fix it, as have the teachers. In this situation it’s even more important to have an honest conversation with the teacher. Don’t promise to look over every homework assignment if you know that’s something you don’t have time to do. If a teacher is concerned and asks you to consider testing your child for learning issues, attention problems, or social miscues, take the request in the spirit it is offered. Your child is not fitting in. The teacher wants your help to improve the situation.
5. Finally, remember that the conference is about school. While time spent on homework may be part of the conversation, please don’t ask the teacher for recommendations on how to make your child finish homework more quickly, make them do chores, or make them go to bed on time. Yes, I’ve had all these questions during conferences. The teacher can be the expert on school, but you must be the expert on parenting. If you feel overwhelmed, there are many resources in the community for parenting classes.
As usual, I am looking forward to parent conferences. I love the opportunity to talk one-on-one with my students and their parents. It’s a precious time. Let’s make the most of it.