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Ms. Leber

September 14, 2023


Parent Prep for Parent-Teacher Conferences

School has been back in session in many districts for a few weeks. Students are returning to old routines or settling into new ones after a transition. Teachers are getting to know their new students, and in return, those students are learning the expectations set by their new teachers. This is a fantastic time for parents to begin prepping for end-of-quarter PTCs (parent-teacher conferences). While the end of the first quarter is still a month away for most schools, prepping for them in September will help parents avoid any surprises at conferences. This is especially important for students who have transitioned schools due to summer moves or grade-level graduations. New schools come with new opportunities, experiences, rules, and expectations. Engaging with your student’s homework, routines, and procedures over the next few weeks will lead to cooperation between parents and teachers and set the foundation for academic success.

The Ugly Truth About Conferences

Honestly, the truth is this: both sides are nervous. 

For teachers, conferences can be an anxiety-riddled affair. Some parents can be forceful, others barely present. Some do not show up, even when teachers are desperate to start a dialogue. For every easy conference with lots of praise, there are serious ones with conversations to be had over valid concerns. Delivering bad news is not easy, especially to strangers who may find it a shock or turn it around and point the blame back at the teacher.

For parents, on the other hand, no one wants to hear bad news. It can be frustrating to hear that your student isn’t doing well in a subject they’ve never struggled in or that they’ve demonstrated negative behaviors in the classroom that they wouldn’t dare try at home. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and immediately go on the defensive. Parents want to protect their children, but this reaction does more harm than good. It also distracts from real problems that students may be exhibiting, further delaying finding solutions to those problems. 

In this situation, it’s critical to remember a few key points:

  1. Parents and educators are a team. If there are valid concerns, the only way to improve student outcomes is by working together– teacher, parents, and student.
  2. Trust that the teachers have the student’s best interest at heart and their observations are legitimate. They care about students, too. Teachers often spend more daily time with students than parents.
  3. School is not home. At school, added reward systems or social pressures lead students to act and think differently. Normally “good” kids can act out at school due to peer pressure, just as “disruptive” kids can behave when they receive adult attention or rewards for desired behaviors.
  4. Kids will go out of their way to avoid getting in trouble, and yes, sometimes that means lying. Nobody wants to admit it, but even “good” kids lie. Some may fabricate entire stories or fudge the truth, leading to awkward situations when their story doesn’t match the teacher’s version. If you catch a child lying, it doesn’t make them a bad kid, just a normal one. They made a wrong choice, but that’s a natural part of learning. The key is having an open conversation about why.

Preparing for conferences is a great way to avoid these scenarios and open lines of communication between parents and teachers. 

Helpful Dos and Don’ts 

Every parent can confidently walk into their conference and even take proactive steps to weather any surprises with a few dos and don’ts to guide them.

DO- Check out the school portal and the teacher’s page. 

Digital school portals have been a game changer for education. It provides parents and students with digital grade books, alerts, and other helpful information, such as policy handbooks. Before the conferences, review grades, communications, and additional important information available on the portal. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the handbook, reviewing any pertinent information that may be helpful, such as discipline policies. Many schools provide webpages for teachers to post syllabi, classroom management plans, assignments, and class materials. Familiarize yourself with the rules and expectations the teacher has set for their classroom.

DON’T- Ask the teacher to send you current grades, missing work lists, or copies of the classroom management plan. 

These types of things are easily found by using the portal or class web pages. If, for any reason, grades or classroom expectations can’t be found, only then should you email the teacher and ask where you can access them.

DO- Send an introduction email prior to the meeting. 

This is especially helpful if last names are different, as it helps teachers connect parent to child. A simple hello, briefly mentioning how you’re looking forward to talking with them, breaks the ice. Use this as an opportunity to mention any issues you’d like to discuss with the teacher, giving them time to prep and gather work examples or behavior data for the meeting. Just remember to keep the tone light and save the conversation for the meeting.

DON’T- Send a list of questions for the teacher to answer ahead of the meeting.

Teachers are already strapped for time, but that’s even more so during conference week. They have dozens of conferences to get ready for on top of their typical duties. While it’s OK to list a few things you’d like to discuss, don’t expect the teacher to provide answers before the meeting. That’s the reason for the meeting, and conversations are always better in person, where things are less likely to be misconstrued.

DO– Ask questions and listen to answers. 

Writing a short list of questions will help guide the meeting and allow it to flow smoothly. Feel free to inquire about things like:

  • What are my child’s strengths/gifts? What areas could they improve, and what suggestions does the teacher have?
  • Whether the teacher has noticed behaviors or struggles in class that have been observed at home.
  • How can we reinforce routines/behaviors/strategies that you’re using in the classroom?
  • What are the significant milestones/objectives to prepare for this grade level?
  • What major assessments are coming this year, and how do you prepare for them?

DON’T- Ask the teacher to change their policies or make exceptions. 

Teachers don’t make rules or set expectations arbitrarily, and they enforce them equally. Please don’t put the teacher in a tight spot by asking them to make an exception for your child. Regardless of their area of expertise or experience level, they have set these rules for good reason, even if you disagree with that reason. It’s good for children to understand that as they move through life, teachers, employers, and other authority figures will set differing expectations for them to follow. Rather than disregarding those expectations, teaching them how to navigate them successfully is better.

What do you think? Do you have tips for conferencing with confidence? Join the conversation on our Facebook page and share your suggestions!

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