Tips for Parents on Surviving Your Next Parent/Teacher Conference

Quick question — what scares you more?  Parent/teacher conferences or root canals?  It can be a hard choice.  Both can be excruciating, though with one of them you get great drugs to help deal with the pain.  True, a root canal may leave you looking like a drooling, swollen chipmunk for a while, but will crying for three days straight leave you looking any better?  When you get down to it, both are good and necessary but neither is much fun.  The big difference between them is that though there’s not a lot we can do to make invasive dental surgery more comfortable, how we approach conversations with the school can make parent/teacher conferences a lot less painful and much more useful.  Here are some of the things we can do to improve our time spent sitting across the table from teachers.

  1. Relax.  No one is judging you or your child.  The point of parent/teacher conferences is to discuss your child’s difficulties and how to address them.  Before you and the school can figure out how to help your child, you have to agree on where he’s struggling. 
  2. If the school says your child is having a hard time, they’re not giving up on him.  They’re also not telling you to go home and fix him.  They’re keeping you informed so that together you can come up with a plan to help him.
  3. Just like any other place of business, schools use a lot of jargon.  If they use terms or abbreviations, or refer to programs that you’re not familiar with, ask them to explain what they mean.  They’re not trying to be confusing or condescending – they just forget that not everyone is as familiar with their school as they are.
  4. Take a list of any concerns you might have to the meeting.  Sometimes it’s hard to remember everything you want to talk about.  If the teacher doesn’t have time to go over the whole list with you during the meeting, schedule a time when you can meet again.
  5. Sometimes when we get negative information about our child, our attention diverts to dealing with the information instead of what’s happening at the meeting.  Our brain can start to spin-out and we don’t listen and respond as well as we’d like.  It can help to focus on just getting the information from the teacher at this meeting.  Then you can go home, think about it – whether you agree or disagree, decide what you think should happen next, and when you’re ready, schedule another meeting with the teacher so you can discuss it more and come up with a plan of action.
  6. If the teacher says your child is struggling in a particular area, ask her how he’s doing compared to the rest of her students.  Regardless of how other kids are doing, your child needs help, but if a lot of other kids are also having difficulty, you’ll know that your child isn’t seriously behind.
  7. If the teacher says your child is having a hard time with something, ask if this is a big problem or a little problem.  Some teachers don’t tell parents about little problems, preferring to take care of them themselves inside the classroom.  Other teachers tell parents about all difficulties because they’re trying to keep parents informed.  Knowing what are big problems and what are little helps parents prioritize their efforts and keeps them from stressing out over little things. 
  8. Also, be sure to ask the teacher why your child is doing poorly.  For example, if he’s failing math, is it because of his homework?  If so, is he not turning in his homework?  Is he forgetting to write down the assignment or check his assignment schedule?  If so, he needs help on his organizational skills.  Or is he not doing the homework because he doesn’t understand how to do it?  Then he might need tutoring.  Or is he doing his homework but not doing it the way the teacher wants him to, like not showing how he solved math equations?  Pinpoint the specific causes of his difficulties so you can address them.
  9. There are a lot of ways parents can help their child at home.  Make good use of your child’s teacher’s experience – ask her how you can help your child with his homework and how to improve his skills.  She can help you figure out how to get the most out of your efforts at home.  Resource and special education teachers are also sometimes willing to answer your questions, even if your child isn’t in their classes.
  10. Teachers generally are very willing to communicate with you throughout the year.  They don’t always have time to meet with you if you just drop in, but if you schedule an appointment with them, they’re very available.
  11. Remember your child’s strengths as well.  Don’t just focus on his weaknesses and difficulties.  Every child has difficulties in one area or another.  Negative information your child’s teacher gives you is the starting point for helping your child improve – it’s not a pronouncement of doom.  Take a few minutes after your meeting to remind yourself of your child’s great qualities.  You guys are going to get through this.
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