The words “Parent-Teacher Conference” have struck fear in my mind since I was old enough to understand that the very reason for a day off from school was for MY parents to talk to MY teacher about ME in my absence. The nerve!
Now that I am a parent, I appreciate these meetings for what they are: an unsolicited opportunity for two-way sharing between teacher and parent. Smoldering issues (as opposed to big burning questions that warrant an after-school phone call) that otherwise might not be discussed are brought to light. Talking in person gives both sides the benefit of reading the body language and hearing the tone of voice that is masked by email correspondence. This is a golden opportunity for collaboration, not to be wasted.
Time is of the essence, as conferences are typically scheduled back-to-back in 20 or 30-minute intervals. Do your homework to make the most of this limited time. Here are some suggestions:
- If you are attending this meeting with your spouse, get on the same page. Don’t waste time in the meeting figuring out what you want to discuss. Establish goals before the meeting.
- Choose two or three priorities and write them down in order of importance. Bring the list with you and share it with the teacher when you sit down. This communicates both your concerns and their rank. The teacher may want to jump right in to addressing your concerns, or may have other things to discuss first. Go with the flow.
- But watch the clock. Once half of the allotted time has passed, it is fine to politely interject that you would like to discuss your concerns if they have not already been covered. Equal time is a reasonable expectation.
- Be specific. If you are concerned about something, name it and claim it. If you want something, ask for it specifically. If you are unclear on something, get clarification. This is much easier to do in person than after the fact via phone call or email.
- Make notes during the meeting. Be especially careful to document anything anyone in the meeting (including yourself) has promised to do.
In the end, if you are dissatisfied with your conference, you have several options. One is to say, at the end of the meeting, that you would like another meeting with more time. This would also give you the opportunity to invite additional people (such as the principal) to join you. If you feel that another meeting with the teacher will not resolve your specific concerns, it is okay to move up the chain of command and meet with a director, dean, or principal. Either way, provide a list of your concerns prior to the next meeting so that everyone will come to the table prepared to discuss those issues.
Finally, try to keep things positive. Intentionally or not, teachers’ perceptions of parents do shape how they treat the children, for better or worse. Focus on collaboration for the good of your child and the best possible school year.