Parent-teacher conferences are a great way to get to know your child's teacher and to let him or her know something about you and your concerns. While school-wide parent-teacher conferences and open houses may allow you to learn about a teacher's policies and personality, they are usually too short to allow for any in-depth discussion of a child's problems or needs. A better way to discuss your child is to set up a private conference. Here are some tips for a successful discussion.
1. Make a List of Concerns
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A list of concerns is a good way to start preparing for a meeting with the teacher. If you are concerned about homework, write that down. If you are concerned with behavior, write that down. It is neither necessary nor desirable to write down every single concern you might have. Instead, focus on one or two of the most important issues. Trying to cover every single issue at one meeting can be counterproductive.
2. Talk to Your ChildLet your child know that you are planning to talk to the teacher. Chances are that you are already aware of your child's feelings on the issues you want to discuss, but he or she might have something to add. In addition, it's good to listen to both your child's and the teacher's point of view. Sometimes a child misreads a situation, and sometimes a teacher is unaware of a child's feelings. Be sure your child knows you are going to try to resolve problems; you're not just going to complain.
3. Put Together a Portfolio of Your Child's Work
If you've been keeping a portfolio
of your child's work, look through it for examples of work that might support what you want the teacher to know about your son or daughter. For example, you are concerned that the homework is too easy, find samples of work on a similar level your child had done the previous year (or two) or current work that is more advanced. Many children, especially the teacher pleasers
, don't always reveal their true abilities, so the teacher might not be aware of them.
4. Set Up an Appointment
Your concerns about your child are important, so you probably want to discuss them as soon as possible. However, you have a better chance of successfully resolving any issues if you make an appointment with the teacher. Making an appointment has several benefits:
- Both you and the teacher have time to prepare
- You are less like to catch the teacher at a bad moment
- It shows respect and gets your started on the right foot
5. Keep a Positive AttitudeA positive attitude is important before, during, and after a conference with the teacher. Children can pick up negative attitudes and if a child thinks the parent disapproves of or doesn't respect a teacher, the child will think such an attitude is acceptable, which will just make any existing problems worse and more difficult to resolve. Leave your anger at home since it can make you look irrational and cause the teacher to become defensive, neither of which will help your child.
6. Avoid the Words "Bored" and "Gifted"Few things can upset a teacher more than telling her that your child is bored in her classroom. Most teachers don't purposely set out to create dull lessons; they usually work hard to create lessons that will be fun and interesting. The word "gifted" makes some teachers feel they are talking with one more pushy parent. Instead, talk about learning styles. You can point out, for example, that your child learns best when given challenging work.
7. Keep the Focus on Your ChildTeachers have more than one child to worry about and so they may respond to your concerns by pointing out what other children need. You can say that while you appreciate their concern for all the children, you are there to discuss your child. For example, a teacher may say that it would not be fair to the other children to give your child special work. Let her know that you appreciate the fact that she is concerned about the other children, but your concern is what is fair to your child.
8. Ask for ClarificationsMost teachers are trained to focus on deficits -- academic, emotional, and social. Consequently, a teacher may point out where she thinks your child needs improvement. For example, she may tell you that your child is too immature to handle more challenging work. Ask what makes her think your child is immature and ask for examples of the immature behavior. Also ask if other children behave in similar ways. It may be that the behavior is fairly typical for that age group.
9. Develop a Plan of ActionWork with the teacher to develop specific steps that you will both take to help resolve the issue. Few school issues can be handled at school alone. For example, if your child isn't turning in his homework and you are asking he be given more challenging work, you might agree to set a specific time for homework and agree to check it while the teacher might agree to try giving him more advanced work.
10. Send a Thank You NoteWithin a day or two after the meeting, send the teacher a note thanking her for meeting with you. List the steps that you and the teacher agreed to take to address your concerns. This note serves not only as a thank you, but also as a way to outline your understanding of the steps you will both take or of any other outcome of the meeting. If there are any misunderstandings, they can be resolved before they cause problems.