Marion County Schools have just sent home the first progress reports of the 2011-2012 school year. For many parents, this means a parent-teacher conference will be scheduled. Grades may be ideal, or they might need improvement, or the teacher might feel there’s an issue that needs to be addressed.
Sometimes parents go to these conferences with the mindset that the teacher is the enemy. Alternatively, they expect the teacher to have all the answers. Neither of these is an accurate perception, and they are not fair to the teacher or to your child.
The teacher’s job is to educate your child. In order to do that, however, she needs cooperation from your child – and from you. You have to find the delicate balance between being on your child’s side and being on the teacher’s side when there’s conflict, and you have to make sure that everyone remembers that you’re all on the same team.
There are a few things that you can do to make a parent-teacher conference go just a bit more smoothly.
Don’t take your child’s word as gospel
Your child has come home and told you all about how their teacher is the Wicked Witch of the West, complete with flying monkeys. She’s evil and spiteful and totally out to get him. But is she really?
Kids exaggerate. If your child is struggling, he may claim the teacher refuses to help him when the reality is that she does, but not when or how he wants her to. He might tell you she’s always picking on him, but the truth is that he’s misbehaving and she’s calling him on it.
But there might be some truth to what he says, too. Although rare, there are occasional teachers that aren’t good with kids, or who have a personality clash with a student and it creates tension and a bad situation all around.
Whatever your child has told you about their teacher, go into the conference with an open mind. Present the teacher with your concerns, but do so in a nonconfrontational way. Indicate that Johnny has come home and he feels singled out or as though he doesn’t get enough help, andask if the teacher can expand on this or clarify what Johnny’s said.
Write down questions and concerns
Make a list of all the questions and concerns you want to address before the conference. Try to prioritize them as well, so that if time is limited, you can at least get the really important stuff taken care of.
Look at your list and determine if the teacher is the best person to talk to about your issues. If one of your concerns is that your child gets off the bus on a busy street corner, that would better addressed by the principal or the transportation department, as the teacher has no control over that. All she can do is direct you to one of those people. But if your question is about how much homework comes home each night, that would be a good question for the teacher.
Last, make sure your questions or concerns aren’t ones you can answer on your own. Some information can be looked up on the Marion County Schools website, including grades in the Parent Portal.
Have some suggestions
If you know your child struggles with something, such as math or reading, and you’ve found something that works at home to help him, let the teacher know. She may be able to incorporate it into the classroom to assist him.
Look for ways you can help make things easier for your child, and discuss those options with the teacher to get her input on whether or not it would be beneficial.
Be open to suggestion
You know your child better than anyone. You are ultimately the best judge of what will work or won’t work for your child (other than your child, of course!). But be willing to listen to the teacher. Many teachers are seasoned veterans with years, or even decades, of teaching experience behind them. They have taught hundreds, if not thousands of students. All of those students are different, with different learning styles, personalities, and abilities. In working with these students, teachers gain a vast amount of tips and tricks that can help your child. So when the teacher makes a suggestion, at least give it some thought, and even give it a try.
If the teacher suggests something that you don’t agree with or don’t understand why she suggested it or thinks it will work, ask. Ask her to explain her reasoning to you. You might be surprised by what she notices about your child.
One of the most important things you can do in this conference is to listen to the teacher. She will be explaining a lot of information, both about the year’s goals and about your child. It’s important that you listen to all this information to see if it answers any of your questions, and also to see if it raises new ones.
Help your child
It’s stressful as a single parent to come home and help with homework, cook dinner, straighten the house, and whatever else you have to fit in each evening. But it’s crucial that you help your child with homework.
You need to be aware of what your child is learning. You need to know what they struggle with, and what they excel at. All of these things combined will give you a view of the bigger picture so that when you go in for a conference, you can (hopefully) have just as much knowledge about your child’s strengths and weaknesses as the teacher.
Let the teacher know that you are a single parent, and that you work. Let her know you have limited time to help your child, and if you aren’t particularly strong in a subject area, let her know that, too. The teacher can often make suggestions that will help you and your child make the most of your limited time and skills, but if the teacher doesn’t know your situation, she can’t help you.
The key thing to remember is that the teacher is not your enemy, nor is she your child’s enemy. Like you, she is trying to help your child reach his or her full potential. With guidance from both you and the teacher, your child can succeed.