Everything You Wanted to Know About Parent Teacher Conferences, But Were Afraid to Ask

Does a parent teacher conference remind you of the days when you were a student?
Does a parent teacher conference remind you of the days when you were a student?
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One of the great things about being a grown-up is that you don't have to go to school anymore -- that is, until you have a kid. Once your child reaches school-age, a dreaded ritual begins: the parent teacher conference.

In part, we fear these meetings because (consciously or unconsciously) they remind us of being cooped up in a classroom with an authority figure. Of course, our other fear is that we're going to be given bad news about our child. Maybe Jane has trouble sharing, or perhaps Billy hasn't been handing in his homework. Whatever the problem is, we'll feel sure that the fault is somehow ours.

But you don't have to feel guilty, and you certainly don't have to dread parent teacher conferences.

Conferences: Yes, They're Mandatory

First of all, remind yourself that the teacher isn't the only authority figure at the conference. You're meeting as equals who share an interest in your child's education.

Think of the conference as an opportunity to ensure that your kid is getting the most out of school. When else do you get the teacher's undivided attention? Best of all, he or she will be able to give you some insight into how your child behaves in a classroom setting (i.e. when you're not around).

This is also your chance to ask a few questions. You can find out about the teacher's educational approach and methods for maintaining classroom order. Before heading off for the meeting, it's a good idea to write down a list of questions. One tip: Try not to be confrontational. Be polite, and really listen to the teacher's response. After all, you want the teacher to be on your (and your child's) side.

When it's all over, you should feel like you've established a partnership with the teacher. This open relationship will allow you to work together in the best interests of your child's education.

Conference Specs

During the conference, ask the teacher what her educational style is. Find out how she relates to your child.
During the conference, ask the teacher what her educational style is. Find out how she relates to your child.
Katy McDonnell/Thinkstock

Typically, parent teacher conferences are scheduled twice a year. In the past, they've been held in the teacher's classroom with only the teacher and the parent(s) present.

More recently, some school districts have introduced a few innovations. One of the most effective has been inviting the student to the conference. The hope is that with your child present, all the interested parties can communicate more clearly with one another. This kind of conference represents a rare opportunity for your kid to bend the teacher's ear without his or her classmates competing for attention.

Another variation on the parent teacher conference reverses the usual location of the meeting. Instead of you going to school, the teacher comes to you. The idea here is that some parents have negative childhood associations with schoolrooms, so they feel more at ease meeting in their own homes.

In many school districts, if you don't speak the same language as the teacher, you have the right to request an interpreter.

Bottom line: Teachers want to make these conferences meaningful and effective. Otherwise, they're just a waste of time with lots of paperwork!

Conference Etiquette

So, you've had your routine conference with the teacher, and he or she calls a special meeting. Try not to think of this as a negative.

If your child is having difficulties in the classroom, these conferences can be invaluable opportunities for dealing with those problems effectively. Of course, most parents defend their children instinctively, but this is one instance when it's a good idea to put that instinct aside. Being defensive won't help little Jane or Billy -- it will just aggravate whatever problems he or she is having.

Try to maintain that team-player attitude, and if the teacher brings up problems that he or she is having with your child, offer to work together to come up with a solution.

The idea that education doesn't end with the school bell may be cliché, but it's true nevertheless.

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Sources

  • Child Development Institute. "Establishing a Parent-Teacher Relationship." (June 23, 2010). http://www.childdevelopmentinfo.com/learning/parent_teacher.shtml
  • Durham Public Schools North Carolina.net. "Parent-Teacher Conferences." (June 23, 2010). http://www.dpsnc.net/parents/parent-tips/parent-teacher-conferences
  • Minke, Kathleen M. and Kellie J. Anderson. The Elementary School Journal. "Restructuring Routine Parent-Teacher Conferences: The Family-School Conference Model." The University of Delaware. (June 23, 2010). http://www.jstor.org/pss/3203049
  • MSNBC. "Kids welcome at parent-teacher conferences" Nov. 1, 2007. (June 23, 2010).http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21581575/
  • "Parent-Teacher Conferencing." University of Nebraska, Lincoln. (June 23, 2010).http://scied.unl.edu/pages/presser/sec/articles/parentconfer.html
  • Weiss, Heather B., Holly Kreider, Eliot Levine, Ellen Mayer, Jenny Stadler and Peggy Vaughan. Harvard Family Research Project "Beyond the Parent-Teacher Conference: Diverse Patterns of Home-School Communication." April 1999. (June 23, 2010).http://www.hfrp.org/publications-resources/browse-our-publications/beyond-the-parent-teacher-conference-diverse-patterns-of-home-school-communication