Conferences are a wonderful way to learn about the teachers, the classroom, and how your child is doing in school. Though you may worry about what the teacher is going to say, being prepared with a positive attitude will go a long way toward making the meeting successful. If you’re feeling nervous, just remember that the teachers are too. This is a chance to exchange information with one of the most important people in your child’s life. Go in with a kind smile and a few positives that you and/or your child have noticed about the class and the teacher and you’ll start off on the right foot!
Making the Most of the Time
Most importantly, be on time to the conference and stick to your time limit. A good strategy that teachers use is to have a clock right there on the table. You can help with this by keeping an eye on the time yourself. If possible both parents should attend the meeting so that everyone can be informed and ready to be on your child’s education team. Talk to your kiddo before the meeting to see if there are any concerns he or she has, but always keep in mind that your child may not be giving you the complete picture of what is going in the classroom. Some schools do parent-teacher-student conferences which can be even more helpful in getting input from the student. Regardless, make a list of points you want to cover so that you can keep your thoughts organized and cover all topics. Mark off your topics and take notes as you go.
There is never enough time at these conferences, so keep that in mind, but you might want to take a minute to share a little something about your child that the teacher might not yet know. Talk about his strengths and weaknesses, what he especially likes to do, what motivates him, any special skills he has. In a classroom with 20+ kids, the teacher may not always be able to learn enough about each child, especially earlier in the year, and this information can be really helpful. Is there anything going on at home that the teacher should be aware of? If you have not already, talk to the teacher about this as well.
Covering All the Bases
The teacher will likely have a structure set out for the meeting so start with adhering to that plan. If she does not touch on these subjects, consider asking specifically about your child’s social and emotional growth in addition to academics. There will likely be examples of student work and plenty of discussion of whether your child is on grade level, but does she play with anyone at recess? Is she unusually shy or tearful or slow to warm up? Ask how you can support any concerns at home. Perhaps the teacher will have a suggestion for kids with whom you can set up a playdate. Maybe the teacher can make some lunch-time pairings that would help your child socially.
Naturally the biggest focus of the conference will be your child’s academic progress. The teacher will likely present an overview and then you can ask questions. A good marker is whether your child is performing on grade level. Are there areas where he needs to improve? If they are not already available, you can ask to see examples of his work. Ask the teacher to point out ways in which it matches up with expectations and any ways in which it does not. Find out where your student is strongest and where there might be some weaknesses. Ask about how much and what kind of homework you should be expecting to see and how much involvement the parents are supposed to have. Most importantly, ask what you can do to support your child’s learning. Does he need a tutor or greater homework support at home? Might educational testing be necessary? This is a great time to start that conversation.
If your child has special needs, you have likely already discussed these with the teacher. If you have not, be sure to ask if the teacher has read and is familiar with any educational plans such as the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or the 504 Plan. If not, it is imperative that this be reviewed immediately. Ask specifically about accommodations (preferential seating, frequent check-ins) and special services (individualized instruction, speech therapy) to see if everything is working as planned. If not, make an appointment to follow up immediately with the teacher as well as the special education team at the school. This conference is not the ideal time to have prolonged discussions about special needs, but it can be an important check-in.
Ask the teacher how he prefers to be contacted. Some teachers live by e-mail whereas others prefer to be called or texted. Feel free to stay in occasional contact but be aware of the limited time teachers have to field individual questions about their students. On that note, if you think you can help in any way, ask how you can assist the teacher with activities at school. Field trip chaperones are always welcome. Can you volunteer in the cafeteria to give the teacher extra planning time? Would the students be interested in touring your workplace? Is there something you can do from home that could be of assistance? Showing the teacher that you want to be a helpful member of her team outside just supporting your own student can go a long way.
At the end of the conference be sure to thank the teacher for all her hard work. Make a plan for any necessary follow-up meetings or action items. In the next couple of days after the meeting, follow up with your child.
E.V. Downey is an educational consultant based on Capitol Hill. She helps families navigate the public, charter, private, and special education school systems. E.V. also works as a behavior therapist with kids on the autistic spectrum.