On the surface the parent-teacher conference is straight forward meeting—an exchange of ideas and information designed to help students succeed at school. But often parents and teachers work at cross purposes and ultimately empathy for the kids is lost.
Teachers come to the meeting wanting to gain information from the parent. They want to know “has there been a death in the family or some other major event that might impact their school performance,” says Chris Hamsher, English teacher at Abington Junior High School. Mr. Hamsher also wants to give parents a plan on how they can, together, help the students reach their full potential. If a child is struggling teachers want to work with the parents to help bring that child along in the class. Often, he says, “parents do not realize that teachers are doing the best they can.”
Parents bring many anxieties to the meeting. Possibly they had their own school failures or successes and that are getting in the way of seeing their own child’s needs clearly. Frequently, parents feel as though they are being judged during these meeting and may not always be truthful about how much television their child watches or about how much they read to their children. So while teachers are looking for information about the home life, parents may be reluctant to share.
“Sometimes, it seems that teachers forget that parents love their children,” says Roxanne Paylago, Treasurer of PTO for Lincoln School in Westfield, NJ. She once had a teacher “drop a bomb” on her about her child. Conferences should be about class work and behavior, she continues, “a larger problem should be communicated the moment it occurs.”
Overworked teachers and worried parents make a poor combination when it comes to clear communication. In order to hold an effective meeting, each party should come with a clear agenda and set of questions. Parents can prepare for the meeting by thinking about their child and looking through the assignments and tests that are sent home.
Who’s missing from this conversation? The students. It’s worthwhile for both the teacher and the parents to ask the students to do a self-evaluation, and to identify what they can improve upon. Involving the student, empowers the child to be part of the planning. Because the adults can seem to be on opposite sides, the students can offer insights that the adults miss. The students are the ones who ultimately have to do the work, so why not include them in the discussion?