Your children have been back in school for a few weeks now, and it is time for parent–teacher conferences. In addition to discovering whether the teacher really is demanding, unfair and beyond reason (as you may have heard), what can you do to make the best use of the 15 to 20 minutes you have with him or her? I suggest organizing your discussion into general areas.
First, find out what is being taught and what is expected of your child. Do the school’s goals for your child and expectations of him align with yours? If not, how do you work together to make these match?
Second, discuss your child and her unique attributes. What kind of learner is she (visual, auditory, tactile) in both your and the teacher’s experience? Ask the teacher how she and the school accommodate differences in learning styles. Ask if your child seems happy at school. Does she have friends? Who are they? How does she interact with other children and adults? Ask for specific examples of behaviors.
What should you, as a parent, do to enhance your child’s education and the work of the school? How much homework is required? How should parents participate in projects and assignments? Are there specific problems or weaknesses that you need to work on at home and, if so, what should you do to address them? How should you monitor your child’s progress at school from home? If your child is having difficulties that are not able to be addressed by you or the teacher, what other resources are there to help?
How are progress and success measured at school? Specifically, how much do tests, homework and class participation count in grading? Which standardized tests will be administered, and how will your child be prepared for these tests?
Finally, ask how the teacher wishes to communicate with you, and you with him? Is email best? Does the school have a website which should be checked frequently? Are communications sent home with the child?
What if this is not a routine conference, but rather a meeting to address a specific educational or behavioral problem? First, listen carefully to the teacher’s explanation of her concerns about your child. It is easy to be defensive and emotional, but try not to allow these feelings to overtake your judgment. If you are bringing a problem to the teacher or the school, be as clear and specific as possible. Be careful to be objective—not critical—and let the teacher know that the concern you are bringing is not personal. Offer helpful information. No one knows your child as well as you do; and the more you are able to share about your child’s personality and history, the easier it will be to solve the problem at hand. Once you have defined the problem, ask the teacher for his input, opinions about the matter and suggested solutions. Remember that relationships and connections matter and taking a few minutes to get to know the teacher goes a long way.
I hope these suggestions make a potentially stressful time become more valuable for you, the teacher and school, and especially for your child. In the end, that is all that matters.
Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Children’s Hospital Services (mercy.net).