Just the phrase “parent-teacher conference” can make moms and dads anxious. Yet, the experience can be a positive one for both you and your student. Typically, parent teacher conferences happen either right before or right after report cards. With grades in the picture, the stakes are raised.
That means it’s worthwhile to make the most of the short time you have to meet with you child’s teacher, and it’s also reasonable to expect that the teacher is prepared to discuss your child in a meaningful way.
Here, we take a look at what goes on behind the scenes with teachers leading up to a conference, as well as tips on how to best prepare yourself so you can get the most out of your meeting.
“I want [the parent] to get comfortable with me as a teacher, so they can reach out if a problem arises. We’re two grownups who have their child’s best interest at heart.”
For teachers, parent-teacher conferences are akin to business meetings. Like any professional, teachers prepare and have goals for the meeting in mind.
The vast array of education-related technology has made preparing for parent-teacher meetings much easier from a teacher’s standpoint. Teachers can mine data to find challenges and trends in classroom performance to present to parents.
Preparation for Lori Bridda-Wakie involves getting parents to show up. Bridda-Wakie is a high school history teacher with 13 years of experience split between two Brooklyn high schools. Bridda-Wakie notes that her classes are generally made up of students who are academically challenged. The class culminates in the Regents, a New York state exam which students are required to pass to earn a high school diploma.
“I call parents who I especially want to come in via the computer scheduler,” she says. Bridda-Wakie also makes sure to have her grades and attendance handy in order to answer any questions parents may have or emphasize points she wants to make.
David Stanley agrees that reviewing where a student stands is important to do before the meeting. Stanley is a veteran science teacher. His experience includes 13 years in a rural public school in Southeast Michigan and two years in a private high school in Flint, Michigan. At Stanley’s current school, a significant number of the students are first generation Americans. The parents pressure their children to be successful, as neither parents nor the children typically want to return to the country of origin. His previous school was in a poor rural area where approximately 30% of the students went on to college.
Stanley reviews the data beforehand to determine what he might want to present the parents. “I like to have ideas on how to help their children,” says Stanley.
While grades are typically part of the meeting, the goals go beyond discussion of grades.
“I want [the parent] to get comfortable with me as a teacher, so they can reach out if a problem arises. We’re two grownups who have their child’s best interest at heart,” says Stanley. In addition, Stanley emphasizes that his goals go beyond things that are testable, such as personal growth and modeling good behavior, which he feels are at least as important to a student’s future.
For Bridda-Wakie, the primary goal is to ensure parents recognize the importance of the Regents exam. “I want parents to know how their children are being prepared for the exam,” says Bridda-Wakie.
Below are suggestions on how to make the most of parent teacher conferences.
According to a report by Child Trends, the percentage of parents who come to meetings does drop as students move up to high school. In addition, parents who are below the poverty line or are non-English speaker or minority are less likely to come and or be engaged in their child’s school.
But parent-teacher conferences only happen if both parties are present. Getting parents to show up is a challenge that Bridda-Wakie faces. “Some parents think since their children are teens and in high school, they’re old enough now, and they don’t need to show up,” she says. She suggests parents come at least once a year particularly those whose children are freshman. Parents can gain a sense of how their child is adapting to high school.
Just as online grade books and other education tech materials help teachers prepare, parents should do the same thing.
“Take the time to delve into your kid’s teachers’ websites and work. That way parents can come in prepared, ask questions and the conference will be more active,” says Stanley. Without the preparation, Stanley notes, the meetings turn into presentations. He prefers responding to parents and engaging in a conversation.
With time of the essence in parent-teacher meetings, preparation can prevent both parties from feeling rushed. Parents will walk away feeling they got the information they needed about their child.
3. Bring the Kids
While the title includes two parties, both Bridda-Wakie and Stanley believe having the student be part of the conference can be helpful.
Stanley emphasizes that if the student is thoughtful and can take ownership of a solution, he appreciates their presence. When praise is earned, Stanley likes doing it in front of the student. Other times, a student’s presence can also be challenging. “Sometimes parent browbeat their kid in front of me, and it’s very awkward. If I have serious concerns, I’ll ask the student to step outside.”
Similarly, Bridda-Wakie likes to be able to compliment a student in front of his/her parents. She believes it’s good for their self-confidence. However, when a problematic student is present it is even more beneficial. “We can engage in a conversation and communication can involve all the interested parties.” The hope is the conversation will make a difference and inspire a challenged student to put in the necessary effort.”
Parent-teacher conferences do not have to be stressful. They’re not about judgement. Know that your child’s teacher is eager to engage you in a conversation, so the two of you can help your child be successful. Consider the suggestions above and make the meetings as productive as possible.
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