Parent-teacher conferences are typically held in October when the first quarter grades are posted. Believe it or not, teachers may be just as stressed about the meeting as parents are! While every attempt is made to make the meeting productive and positive, according to a recent study by the University of New Hampshire, sometimes both sides misinterpret constructive criticism as a slam against their own performance, instead of focusing on the child’s well-being.
Danielle Pillet-Shore, assistant professor of communication at the university says, “Parents and teachers behave in a way suggesting that they are each treating the conference as an occasion for their own performance review – using the student’s progress, or lack thereof, as a gauge of how the teacher is doing at his or her job of ‘being a teacher’ and how the parent is doing at his or her job of ‘being a parent.'”
The first parent-teacher conference is meant (on both sides) to gain valuable insight and information about your child’s education and steps that can be taken to improve learning. But it is also a chance for parents to develop a relationship with the teacher, knowing that you stand together as a team to give your child the very best possible opportunity for success.
The teacher should be the one to lead the conference, although you as a parent are definitely encouraged to be an active participant. However, because you have a lot to talk about in just 20-30 minutes, plan ahead with questions to help maximize the experience. Here are some (gathered from Child’s Health Magazine, GreatSchools.org, and the Harvard Family Research Project) that the teacher will likely go over in the conference, but if not, you should ask:
1. What skills and knowledge will my child be expected to master this year?
At Open House, you probably already learned about the key subjects like math, science, history, and English? But if you were unable to attend, ask the teacher about what your child will learn over the course of the next year.
Other potential questions: How do you inform students about the academic standards they’re expected to meet? What kind of projects and assignments have you planned that will help my child meet higher academic standards?
2. How will my child be evaluated?
The new grading scale is tricky, and because we didn’t grow up with it as parents, it can be very confusing to know if your child is excellent or in need of improvement. Some questions to ask: What kind of information do you use to evaluate students? How do you know if they’re academically ready to move on to the next grade? How are grades determined in your classroom?
3. What can I do to stay more involved in my child’s academic progress?
Parents should already be aware of the importance of homework and ensuring that it is completed each night (verified by signature, or other method as determined by the teacher). You can also ask: What can I do at home to complement what is happening in the classroom? How can I support teachers’ efforts in implementing higher academic standards?
The following questions are more subjective than just lesson plans and grades, but can give you a lot of inside information about your child’s success at school:
After you give directions, does my child get right to work? – This will help determine if your child has trouble processing information or difficulty focusing.
How do you encourage positive behavior? – There must be consequences for inappropriate behavior, but children also need rewards for positive efforts.
Does my child have a hard time finding partners for group work? – You may not notice at home, but your child may be shy and have difficulty in social situations.
Do you customize instruction? – Meaning that teachers offer a lesson in more than one way if the child doesn’t “get it”. Most do.
Does my child take pride in the quality of his/her work? – You, of course, want to know that your child is giving his best at school. If not, look for what needs he may have.
How would you describe my child’s personality? – Teachers often know a different “version” of your child than you do. Knowing how they are at school gives you better insight to their overall personality.
Does my child like school? – This is a simple question that almost never comes up, but it is very important in finding out if your child is having an enjoyable experience, which makes him or her more likely to learn and be successful.
Remember that the Parent Teacher Conference is a collaboration between parent and teacher – a giving and taking of information to ensure that your child is on track for a very successful school year!