The Teacher is Talking: What to Ask at Parent-Teacher Conferences

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By Leslie Lindsay

We just had the twice-annual sit down with our child’s classroom teacher.  You know the one where you cram your adult-sized body into a tiny little chair and scooch into a tiny little desk?  You nod and smile and take in all that you can about your child in a quick 15-minute window…and then walk out thinking, “Oh, but I forgot to ask about____.”  Well, it’s that time again, parents: the parent-teacher conference.

Here’s a quick list of questions and prompts to get you thinking about what you can do to make the meeting a successful one:

  • Plan ahead and get a sitter.  Most schools don’t want the kiddos there while you are chatting with the teacher, although some don’t mind.  We didn’t have a sitter.  Kate was proud to bring her little sister into her classroom and play Legos together.   I don’t think they really cared what we were talking about…but well…you never know.
  • Be on time, maybe even early.  These meetings are typically scheduled in 15 minute blocks.  They are fast and furious.  Make sure you get your full 15 minutes by arriving early if you can.
  • Bring your child’s report card along.  That is, if the school already mailed it to you.  (Some schools hand them out at conferences).  Having in front of you can remind you what you wanted to mention to the teacher.
  • Let the teacher start the disscussion.  She likely has an agenda for those quick minutes you are face-to-face.  Try to listen and not interrupt with questions, chances are she will answer your questions as she talks.
  • If your kids are in ear-shot, it can be a good thing.  Why?  Well, they hear their teacher (whom they likey repect and admire) spout out good things about them.  This builds their confidence.
  • If the teacher has less-than-pristine things to share with you about your child, then it works two-fold:  your child hears that your teacher is concerned and may improve without a lot more added pressure, and you may not have to hassle them at home.  (chances are, your child is already aware of a content area she struggles with, or knows she has been in trouble for talking too much, for example).
  • Write things down.  You’ll hear a lot in a short amount of time.  Write it down so you don’t forget.
  • Bring a friend, spouse, partner.  They may hear things differently than you did, or remember some small detail that you did not.
  • Bring a list of your concerns.  Whether it’s reading comprehension or how your child is doing in the social realm.  You think you’ll remember these questions, but once you are face to face, they often fly out of your brain.
  • Ask:  “Does my child show any leadership skills in the classroom?”  “Whom does he typically pick to be partners with?”  “Does she seem to understand what you are saying in class?”  “Is there a time of day he does better?”  “What subject matter does she gravitate towards?”  These questions may give you an inside scoop you weren’t expecting.

However the conference goes, make sure your child knows you are proud!  She’s worked hard this first quarter : ) 

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