It’s early fall, and in most school districts, that means parent-teacher conferences are on tap. Little about education fills a parent with trepidation like parent-teacher conferences. Conferences are a stressful time for everyone; teachers, administrators, parents, and students.
Do you want to minimize the stress, and maximize the good efforts of everyone involved with conferences? Of course you do.
Herewith, seven tips for successful conferences.
1) Check out the clubs and activities. Theater, robotics, sports, music, chess – good schools have dozens of activities, and in most schools, the clubs have tables on conference night. If your kid seems to lack friends, or complains of boredom, a club that interests him/her might be the ticket to your child’s school success. Put in your child in with the right group of kids, with proper supervision, and let good peer pressure do the rest.
2) Have a plan and a map. Time is limited on conference night. Many large school buildings now seem to require a GPS app for proper navigation. To make efficient use of your evening, scout out which classrooms are nearest each other. You’ll also find backlogs at some classrooms. Have a Plan B so that you don’t sit outside a classroom door for 30 minutes whilst you wait to speak with a teacher.
3) Shake hands with the administrators. You need to know these people. Teachers are on the frontlines of education, that is true, but administrators steer the ship. Teachers teach under the direction of admins. If you have a handle on the admins’ point of view, you now have a handle on how the school is run. In addition, if your child has issues that need to be addressed, it is true that the buck stops on the admins desk. You are far more likely to be viewed positively if you’ve made a connection before a crisis.
4) Make an appointment for a meeting if you have a serious concern. Conferences are not the time to have a serious 30 minute conversation about your child. Not only is that rude, it is not useful. If your child has a serious issue that needs to be addressed, it is far better for all, and far more private, to have that meeting before or after school.
5) Don’t bring the kids. Please, do not bring your child to conferences. As a teacher, I do not want to see you berate or cajole your child in my presence. I promise you, your child doesn’t want to be a part of those scenes. There is nothing to be gained. There are things that I may need to say to you as a parent that would be wholly contra-indicated in front of your child. There are things that you may need to bring up with me that are adult in nature and your child has no business hearing them. I speak with your child every day. We have a relationship. I promise, I do not triangulate against you with your child, but I do need to be able to work with him/her every day. Having an adult conversation with you in the presence of your child undermines our working relationship. Don’t bring the kids.
6) Follow-up. Drop a quick email to your child’s teachers. Nothing big: “Nice to meet you. Timmy and I are looking forward to a good year in your class. If you need me, please reach out. Thanks for your time.” Believe it or not, conferences are a sales situation, and both parent and teacher want to make a good first impression.
7) Leave your high school issues at home. For some, high school was a great place. For some, high school was a giant, festering cesspool of distrust and anger. For most, it was a combination of the two. Whatever your high school experience, please check it at the door. Come to conferences with new eyes. Teachers are there to make the high school experience as good as possible for your kid. We need you on our side to make this happen. Parents should have the same expectations. You need us on your side to make that happen for your kid. Whether high school was a high point of your life, or it makes you still want to curl up in ball with a bottle of something, come to conferences with an open mind and say hello.
We’re all in this together. I’m rooting for you, rooting hard.