Preparing for a parent-teacher conference can feel a little bit like studying for an exam. You're nervous and unsure what to expect. You've tried not thinking about it, but it turns out that the calendar continues to progress steadily forward, so you'll need a new strategy. On the bright side, it turns out that, just like with a test, you already have access to all the information you need.
The first step is to review your child's work. Make it a habit to go through your child's entire backpack at least weekly, if not more often. Look closely at each paper. Is the work complete, neat
and legible, and correct? Are errors clearly marked? Can you tell whether mistakes are made from carelessness or a genuine misunderstanding of the material?
Ask your child to talk about the work. "What's this worksheet? When did you do it? Did you understand it?" It's fine to ask about specific mistakes, but be careful not to attack your child's self-esteem. "What happened here?" is a neutral question that lets your child answer. If he needs more prompting, you can say something like, "It looks like this was a little confusing. Can you tell me what you were thinking here?"
Once you have a sense of what your child is doing in class, you'll have a better idea of what you should talk about at the conference.
As with any meeting, it's best to walk in prepared. Create an agenda, and make sure it's realistic for the time allotted. (If you have multiple issues to address, schedule an additional
appointment.) Write down the important points you want to make and ask. Don't trust your memory -- you'll be rushed and maybe a little tense. A written list will help keep you on track.
Your agenda will be largely determined by what you've discovered about your child's work and things you've observed over time. For example, maybe your fourth-grader is spending 90 minutes on homework daily, and her work is coming home with questions marked wrong but no corrections offered. Your agenda might read:
With your agenda in hand, you know what you need to get out of the conference. You can use the agenda to keep the conversation on track. It's important to note, however, that the teacher may have her own agenda for the conference. That's fine, but if your time is up and none of your concerns have been addressed, you'll need to schedule another meeting.
As you plan for your conference, keep several things in mind. When the teacher talks about your child's work or behavior, ask for specific examples and context for what's being shared. For example,
the teacher might tell you that your daughter constantly misbehaves. You can ask what, specifically, she does, and what's going on in the classroom when she acts out. You might then find out that
your daughter disturbs others when she retrieves a book to read when she finishes her math 20 minutes before anyone else. What looks like misbehavior at first blush might well be boredom.
Are issues limited to a single teacher or subject, or do you see a pattern across the entire school day? Is a problem happening at a specific time of day -- like early morning before your child's medication has kicked in, or right before recess when she is restless?
Don't be afraid to tell the teacher that you'd like to have some time to think about the problem and respond to it in a day or two. Don't feel like you need to come up with a solution on the spot.
Perhaps the most important part of your conference should be to establish a rapport with the teacher and to let her know that you consider her part of your team. In fact, as you face problems, remember that it's not you versus the teacher or you and the teacher against your child. Rather, it's you, your child, and the teacher versus the problem. The three of you are all in this together, and when you convey that to a teacher, you'll win her heart.
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