How to Prepare for Your Next Parent-Teacher Conference

Filed under: Education: Big Kids, Education: Tweens, Education: Teens

parent teacher conference

Help make parent-teacher conference constructive. Credit: Getty Images

We all think our child is the most charming, brilliant, adorable, insert your preferred adjective here. So it's not very encouraging when your child's teacher isn't as effusive as you. But, if you take a moment to see things from his or her perspective, it will make the oft-dreaded parent-teacher meetings much more constructive.

According to Dr. Devin Thornburg, professor of education and director of the childhood education program at Adelphi University in New York, educators observe their students through the lens of a group setting.

"Parents might be interested in having an independent thinker," he says, while, at the same time, the teacher is more interested in peer interaction and a child's ability to follow directions.

Those two visions "don't have to be contradictory to each other," Thornburg tells ParentDish in a phone interview. He believes there would be a lot less miscommunication if parents attempted to see things from a teacher's point of view.

He recommends trying to better understand the teacher's curriculum, as well as what is expected of the child, both academically and socially.

Jim Rodgers, a father of three and high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb, agrees.

"I have anywhere between 120 and 150 students in my five classes and parents need to know this," he says.

To promote better communication, Rodgers created a website that his students and their parents visit to post questions and comments. In addition, his school uses a software program called PowerSchool that allows parents to correspond with teachers about their child's grades, homework and more. Rodgers praises these tech products for bringing order to his regular communiqué with parents.

As for scheduling in-person meetings, Thornburg recommends parents write a note requesting a meeting time and give it to the teacher during the morning or afternoon contact, or simply leave it in the teacher's school mailbox.

"The written request allows the teacher to keep focused on the beginning and end of the school day, which is often the time requiring the most attention from a teacher in terms of student (and parent) behavior," Thornburg tells ParentDish in an email.

Rodgers doesn't mind being approached by parents in the afternoon, but says the morning is definitely not a good time. That's when he's going over his lesson plans and organizing himself for the day. Rodgers says parents need to be receptive to what the teacher has to say, regardless of expectations or hopes.

Sometimes, parents come in with an agenda, entering the conversation with an adversarial tone, he says. And that just doesn't work for anyone. It establishes an "us versus them" mentality when, in reality, everyone is on the same team.

"Parents need to approach a teacher from a support system point of view," Rodgers says.

Both Rodgers and Thornburg agree that meetings are more productive when parents are proactive.

"It's best when parents go in with one or two goals that can then be reviewed at the meeting's conclusion," Thornburg says.

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