Parent/teacher conferences occur officially once a semester in most school districts. They can be tedious and long, often requiring a parent to wait outside a teacher’s door or visit several other teachers and come back to the one they were waiting for only to discover the teacher left to use the restroom.
Regardless of the hurry up and wait nature of parent/teacher conferences, they are essential for students, parents and teachers for many reasons and when parents do attend, they can be active leaders in the conference by being prepared to ask specific questions that they want to know about their child.
Often, parents come into conferences as a blank slate, and the teacher controls what information is shared or not shared.
The conference usually consists of a grade sheet and behavior highlights, both good and bad, and sometimes a rundown of the lessons that the student is learning in the class.
Parents may want to have a specific list of questions prepared for the teacher, or provide in advance any information they want to know about their student in that class.
The conference is a chance for the parents to learn a little about what their students are learning. The more the parent knows about class lessons, the more he or she can talk with their child about what is being learned, which reinforces the learning.
The best prepared parent will have already made contact with his or her child’s teachers before the first conference.
While teachers are required to contact parents when a student is struggling, they do not always have the time to contact parents just to say hello or to tell the parent what a great job the student did on an assignment.
Parents may want to email a teacher with his or her information and let the teacher know what kind of notifications they want about their child.
Email is often one of the most effective and efficient means of communicating with a teacher. Emails are easy to track, and when you email a teacher, and they have a parent email, it is easier for them to send a quick email with an update without having to use a cell phone or leave the room to make a phone call.
Parents can send questions they want answers to before the parent/teacher conference, giving the teacher time to gather and provide that information without having to look for it at the conference.
Questions parents might want to ask, aside from questions about grades and behavior: Do you have a class syllabus? What are the students learning this week, month, semester? How can I learn more about that topic to help my student at home? What questions can I ask my students to get him or her to talk about what he or she is doing in class? Where does my son/daughter sit in the classroom? How can I help my child do better in your class? How can I help you help my child do better in your class?
Having an idea of where your child sits as well as how he or she acts in class allows parents to visual the classroom as students talk about what they did or did not do in class.
Knowing the subject matter or what kinds of questions to ask about the subject matter encourages the students to think about what they did that day, and acts as a review of the learned information.
It also puts the students as the ones who are teaching the parents, building confidence as students become more and more knowledgeable.
For students who struggle with retaining the information, parents can sit down with students and find the answers to the questions asked together in classroom notes or in a Google search, or by emailing the teacher and asking for a summary review that the parent can then share with the student.
Another advantage to contacting the teacher long before the conference is that you let the teacher know you are an involved parent, and that holds the teacher accountable for paying attention to the student and opens up communication lines so that communication happens regularly, not just when the student’s grade is falling.
If contact with the teacher has been made in advance of parent teacher conferences, then the conference becomes an update and is less of a surprise. Discussions can be less about handing over a grade sheet, and become more in-depth about the way the student learns and ways that parents and teachers can more effectively support the student’s learning.