The parent-teacher conferences that appear on the calendar twice a year can feel nerve-wracking or unpredictable for us parents, but there's no need to worry! Think of this meeting as an opportunity to meet with your child's teacher one-on-one and to get a comprehensive look at what your child's school life is like.
"You gain the perspective of a trained professional who spends an enormous amount of time with your child," says Gracemarie Rozea, former president of the New York State Parent Teacher Association (PTA). "The teacher has the opportunity to see your child interacting with other children, and is a more objective evaluator of your child than you as a parent might be."
You might expect the discussion to revolve around your child's test scores. "They're important, but it's the whole child that needs to be addressed," says Doris Ekert, a former high school English teacher in Massapequa, New York. If you find your child's teacher is focusing too much on grades and academics, try asking questions that address the parts of your child that can't be measured by test scores and homework, such as character and friendships.
Your kids' teachers are just as interested in your input as you are in theirs. "There are many things about your child the teacher doesn't know," says Rozea. Teachers want to be informed of any changes your child is facing in their personal or family life, and how they behave at home in comparison to how they act at school. Your child's comfort level in the classroom, whether they've found their niche among fellow students, and whether they seem stressed or happy are all important clues to their social and emotional well-being. By working together, you and your child's teacher can fully understand them.
With so much to talk about in so little time, here are seven essential tips to make the most of your meeting:
Before the Parent-Teacher Conference
- Start preparing early. Don't wait until the night before to get organized. Create a folder at the beginning of the year in which you keep test scores, big homework assignments, and any notes. No sweat if you haven't been doing that so far — just pull together any materials you have, and jot down questions.
- Talk to your child. Ask how they're doing in class, and about what's going on during lunchtime, recess, and when they go to special classes like music or gym. If you don't like what you're hearing, investigate. Talk to other parents to see if their children are expressing similar concerns. "You want to find out both the positive and negative," says Rozea. "You need to find out whether your child is perceiving everything accurately or if she's misunderstanding a situation."
During the Parent-Teacher Conference
- Arrive early. With only a few precious minutes to spend, you don't want to be late. It will shorten your time with your child's teacher and affect their entire day's schedule.
- Go in with a positive attitude. The goal of both the teacher and you should be the success of your child. Arrive with a compliment to start the conference off on the right foot. ("My son is really enjoying the unit on space" or "We had a great time on the field trip.") Then address any concerns respectfully.
- Find out the communication protocol. Don't let this be the only time you talk to your child's teacher. Ask them how they like to communicate, whether it's by e-mail, notes passed through a folder, or phone calls.
After the Parent-Teacher Conference
- Follow up. If the teacher brings something to your attention that needs to be addressed with your child, take steps to put the plan in motion, whether it's working on organizational skills, getting extra help, or addressing a social issue. (These grade guides will help you know what to expect academically each year.)
- Update your child. Start with the positive things their teacher had to say, then fill them in on any concerns you and the teacher discussed. Explain how you can all work together to ensure your child has a successful year.
Don't forget about holiday gifts for your child's teacher! Get ahead on shopping with these easy gifts teachers love.
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