Everyone is back in school, and teacher conferences are around the corner. There are definitely some parent-teacher conference mistakes to avoid. How do I know? I’ve made them. This year marks my tenth year of parent-teacher meetings, and I’ve learned a thing or two over the past decade.
I’m sharing some of the errors I have made so that you can avoid them and make the most of parent-teacher night.
Talking too much
I’m a talker by nature. While that’s usually fine, parent-teacher conferences are all about listening as a parent. I may have established a good rapport when chatting with the teachers, but at a cost. With limited time allotted for each slot, I missed out on hearing the teacher’s observations of my child.
Let your child’s teacher do the majority of the talking at conferences.
Not asking where your child can improve
Teachers will almost always start the conference with a positive comment. If, however, the teacher offers only positive comments about your child, you need to probe a bit more. Early on, I was happy to just bask in the glow of praise for my child, but that was a mistake. No matter how your child rocks the start of the school year, ask the teacher where you child can do better. Asking may just reveal information you really need.
One year, my daughter’s teacher told us that our child was doing great. The teacher seemed very pleased with her. I mentally patted myself on the back. Then I asked, “What can she do to improve?” The teacher responded that she was behind her classmates in a subject area. I about fell out of that itty-bitty red elementary school chair I was sitting in. Turns out “doing great” for this teacher only meant “behaving well.” Asking that one key question gave us the critical information we needed. I shudder to think what would have happened if we had just smiled and nodded rather than following up.
I have no doubt that your child is amazing, but there is always going to be room for improvement. The sooner they learn that, the better. A parent-teacher conference is a wonderful opportunity to teach kids about receiving and acting on constructive criticism.
Not giving teachers a heads-up
Give teachers advance notice if your conference situation is something that teachers don’t typically encounter. Whether that’s letting them know that a grandparent will be attending, or that you have some specific needs, or that there will be others involved can go a long way toward a constructive conference and making the most of your limited minutes with the teacher.
Our school district will only do one conference per child and it’s up to co-parents to figure it out. My daughter’s father and I are both married, and over the years, we have found that, when possible, all four of us like to attend parent teacher conferences. We all like hearing directly from the teacher and it helps keep us on the same page with the same info. It also sends the child the message that her education is hugely important to all of us.
Teachers, though, are used to only one parent attending and some are understandably flummoxed when a group of us appear. Some have had to search for enough chairs. Others have seemed uncomfortable the whole conference. Sending teachers a quick email ahead of time allows them to plan for seating and make sure that they won’t be thrown off their game.
Not requesting a follow-up
Teacher conferences go quickly, especially as your kids get older and have multiple teachers. Those teachers have a lot of parents to get through and a five-minute conference slot is often all you get. If you haven’t gotten the information you need or addressed all your concerns during the conference, ask before you leave what is the best way to follow up. I have at times felt rushed, but that’s silly. I had time to ask a 30-second question. Take the time to ask. After all, you and your child’s teacher are partners in your child’s education. Teachers understand that it may take more than five or ten minutes to establish how to best support your children so that they can succeed.
Hopefully your teacher conferences will be productive and one part of a positive school year for you and your child!
Author: Shannan Younger
Shannan lives in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband and teen daughter. She’s a recovery attorney who now blogs at BetweenUsParents.com, ChicagoNow, and as part of the Chicago Parent Blogger Network. Her writing has appeared on the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, Scary Mommy, BonBon Break, Brain Child and In the Powder Room, and her essays have been included in two anthologies by The HerStories Project. She is also freelance writer for regional magazines. Shannan was in the 2013 cast of Listen to Your Mother, despite the fact that her daughter often fails to do so.