You may remember that when you were a child, your parents were called to school when you had misbehaved or had serious academic problems. But there are other reasons for parents to come to school. Once or twice a year you will have a routine scheduled conference with your child's teacher—an opportunity to discuss your youngster's capabilities and progress, and your mutual goals for her for the school year. Together, you and the teacher can develop plans to make the school experience as positive as possible.
Before these conferences, parents sometimes worry that they themselves are being evaluated and judged as parents, or that they might ask a silly question or embarrass themselves in some other way. They may even experience the same type of general anxiety that they feel when visiting the doctor's office, anticipating that something is wrong.
If those feelings sound familiar, remind yourself of the positive nature and intent of these conferences. You are in a partnership with the teacher and other school personnel. You are an expert on your child and family, and certainly have information to share with the teacher that can be helpful in enhancing your youngster's classroom experience. At the same time, the teacher can tell you what is going on in the classroom, as well as suggest appropriate plans and goals for the remaining school year and possibly for the next year. Before each conference think about the questions you have and the issues you want to raise. For instance:
- Are there areas in which my child is not working up to her capabilities?
- What can I do at home to help her improve in the subjects in which she is weak?
- Does my child get along well with her classmates? Does she tend to be overly shy or overly aggressive?
- Have you noticed any learning problems or behavioral difficulties?
- Is there a need to formally assess my child's capabilities or further explore the course of her difficulties?
- Has my child had any unexplained absences or tardiness?
- Are her homework assignments being turned in, and are they well done? Am I supposed to help my child do homework or correct it?
- What are my child's strengths and interests, and are they being nurtured?
Since the time allotted for the conference may be short, you may want to make a list of your questions in their order of importance. If both parents cannot attend, talk about the conference with the other parent in advance, and go over the issues he or she thinks should be raised.
Ask your child, too, if there is anything she would like you to discuss. Are there particular reasons she is continuing to have difficulty with math, for example, or science? Is she having any problems with classmates? Reassure your child that the conference is designed to help her do better at school, and for you to better understand her school experience, not to find things about her to criticize. In some schools the students attend all of these parent-teacher conferences; find out your school's philosophy about this in advance, and if you would like a conference without your child, it can usually be arranged.
Arrive on time for the conference. Meetings with parents usually are scheduled at precise intervals. If you feel you need more time with the teacher, request the last conference of the day, or ask for a special time of sufficient length so all of your questions can be discussed. Also, if your time is up and you still feel there is more to discuss, schedule a second meeting or a phone call to continue the dialogue. Between meetings, if there is a problem with your child that you are trying to resolve, collect as much information as possible and come to the next meeting with some ideas and solutions in mind.
After the conference, discuss it with your child. Tell her what you learned and what you and the teacher decided about future plans and strategies.
Consider sending the teacher a note of thanks, particularly if the conference proved helpful or you sensed a special thoughtfulness or commitment to your child's educational progress and well-being.