Kids & Parenting

Get the most out of a parent-teacher conference

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A school teacher
The first parent-teacher conference of the school year usually involves the parents and teachers getting to know each other and asking basic questions
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Check out these helpful tips.

With a little preparation talking with your child's teacher can be a very rewarding experience for parents, teachers and for the child you discuss. Since conferences customarily allow for approximately 30 minutes of discussion, consider the following pointers on how to get the most out of a parent-teacher conference.


Conference Patterns


Conferences usually follow a pattern. The first conference of the year is a good time for the teacher to ask questions about your child. 


At the second conference you will be asking the bulk of the questions. Expect that your child's teacher may have a number of questions about his or her new student. Remember that questions do not mean that the teacher doesn't know your child. Especially in early grades teachers want to know if the behaviors they are seeing in school are part of a consistent, complete and true picture of the child. Some children, for example, may be very quiet in class, while at home and on the playground they talk endlessly. 


Knowing this enables both teacher and parent to support the child's self-confidence so that he or she can better demonstrate what he or she is learning by speaking up more frequently in class. Does your child keep things in order at home? may sound like a criticism of your child or you. It may emerge that your child is messy at school or spending too much time putting possessions in order or starting a project over and over because of early mistakes.

Again, by sharing information, teachers and parents can reassure a child who feels rushed in school or feels that both teachers and parents will regard small mistakes as signs of failure. Being prepared for questions is one good way to get the most out of a parent-teacher conference.


Questions to Ask


Asking questions also contributes greatly to a successful conference. It helps to write down some of your questions. Conference conversation can lead in many directions, and you will feel better if you do not get distracted from what you want to know.

How you ask questions is just as important as what the questions are. You can report how your child seems to handle homework in a particular subject area, then ask if the teacher sees the same things that concern you. Instead of asking, Why are you making it so hard for my child to understand math? or Why do you give so much homework in math?, you will get better answers if you say, John seems to spend a long time on his math homework and says he hates it because he doesn't understand and Are you seeing him have problems like this in class?

Once again, you are putting yourself and your child's teacher in a working-together position rather than taking sides in an argument. A teacher, just like anyone else, is much more likely to be helpful to someone who asks What can we do?, rather than just What are you going to do?

Be Prepared


Coming prepared to provide teachers with information that may impact your child's school performance is another important factor in how to get the most out of a parent-teacher conference. Your child may or may not share important family events and worries with teachers and classmates. Usually, the older the child, the less the sharing. It then helps your child's teacher to know if major family events may be affecting your child's ability to pay attention or follow directions. Notifying the teacher that your child's favorite uncle has just been diagnosed with cancer or his father is in the process of changing jobs may help a teacher understand puzzling behaviors and reach out to your child in helpful ways. 


Take Information Home


Come prepared to take information home as well. Usually a child gains considerable security from knowing that his parents and his teacher are on the same team. You can share positive observations like telling your child Mrs. Osborne said you're writing beautiful poems, negative observations like Mrs. Osborne told me she hoped you and Jeremy could stop visiting so much in class and that I told her I would remind you and questions like I asked Mr. Hillard if there were ways Dad and I could help you in math, and he said he'd think about it. Can you think of anything we could do?


There is no secret to how to get the most out of a parent-teacher conference, but there are strategies that make it a productive experience for all involved. Remember first and foremost that you and your child's teacher work most effectively when you work together. A parent-teacher conference is the beginning of a dialogue, not the end. The conference is meant to help your child be happy and successful in school.

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