Marion County Schools have sent home the first progress reports for this school year. Some parents are pleasantly surprised by what they see, others are dismayed. With the arrival of progress reports usually comes the first requests for parent-teacher conferences, either by the parent or by the teacher.
For a child with a disability, conferences might be slightly different than they would be for a typical child, although not much different. There are a few things to think about and do when preparing for a parent-teacher conference.
Does your child have an IEP or a 504 plan?
Although the teacher should be aware of it, and have a copy of it, take a copy with you to the conference. This ensures that you can refer to it to confirm that all the terms are being met, and if not, you can address that. This is especially important if your child has a disability that isn’t immediately obvious.
It’s also a good idea to read it over yourself before the conference. While you’ll have it with you, it’s best if you familiarize yourself with it again so that you can find any information you need in it quickly.
Timing is everything
If your child’s progress report wasn’t quite what you were expecting, it’s important to schedule the conference as soon as possible. The longer you delay, the longer your child’s grades will suffer. You want to talk to the teacher as immediately as possible so that you can figure out why your child’s grades aren’t what you expected and determine how to resolve those issues.
The teacher may not be able to meet with you right away. But you should still contact her as soon as you realize there’s an issue that needs to be addressed, rather than telling yourself you’ll contact her tomorrow, and then tomorrow you tell yourself that again.
Take steps to mitigate damage
Grades and other academic concerns are generally the most common reasons parents and teachers request conferences. But sometimes it’s for other reasons, such as your child feeling bullied (or being a bully). Whatever your reason for requesting the conference, look at the situation and see what you can do to remedy the situation yourself, even before meeting the teacher.
If your child brought home poor grades, you might determine they need more study time each day. Perhaps you’ll decide that rather than simply being available to help with homework, you need to sit down with them and actively help with homework from the start. Teaching your child what to do to disengage from a bully or to stop being the bully are other things you might do before meeting with the teacher.
By mitigating the damage even before the conference, you take the first steps to ensure your child’s success, and you show the teacher that you are not expecting her to do everything. It also prevents wasting time as the teacher makes suggestions to try all these things.
Remember you’re a team
Parents often become very protective of their children once they learn the child has a disability. Part of that protective stance can lead to bristling up and taking offense to even the most innocent statements. It’s important to remember that you and the teacher are on the same side, and that your goals are the same: to educate your child, providing him or her with the best education possible within their limitations.
The teacher will make suggestions based on her interactions with your child and what she’s gotten to know about your child, combined with her years or even decades of experience in working with children. Though you might feel that her suggestions are harsh or unnecessary, it’s important to consider that they might have some merit.
Keep an open mind
If you suspect your child has a learning disability, but this has not yet been confirmed, it’s important to keep an open mind when you speak with the teacher. You may be correct in your suspicion, but the teacher may be able to give you some insight that indicates otherwise. Perhaps your child is distracted by other children sitting around him and this is leading to poor grades.
Discuss your concerns
If you suspect a learning disability, talk to the teacher. Explain which disability you think your child may have and what you’ve seen that supports your suspicion. The teacher cannot diagnose your child, but she can tell you what she sees in her classroom and suggest to you the best way to go about getting your child evaluated and diagnosed.
You shouldn’t limit yourself to discussing just your child’s disability or potential disabilities. Any questions you have about grades, homework, class assignments, or anything else should be brought up.
Make a list and prioritize
Sometimes a conference is limited due to your own schedule or that of the teacher. Before the conference, create a list of all the questions or concerns you’d like to discuss with the teacher. Go through this list and reorganize it with the most important things first. This way you can ensure that you get the most important answers. This also allows you to leave the list with the teacher and she could email or send a note home to answer any unanswered questions.
Keep in touch
Don’t limit contact to just parent-teacher conferences. Whether by phone call, email, note, or frequent meetings, ensure you stay in touch with the teacher throughout the year. Frequent contact ensures you become aware of issues as they arise, rather than discovering them when a progress report or report card comes home with poor grades. It also shows the teacher that you are involved and that she can contact you anytime if there are issues or concerns about your child.
Going into a parent-teacher conference prepared is key to having an effective conference that can benefit your child.