What to expect during conference time for both parents and teachers.
It's that time of year again, when parents take off from work in the middle of the day or get a sitter for the evening so that they can meet with their child's teacher.
It's kind of a big deal; parents shift their work schedules for a quick 15 to 20 minute slot to learn something they don't already know about their kids.
In this age of email and online parent portals, parents and teachers are often already communicating as things arise … so what will you tell or show them in this short amount of time?
Well, whether you are a seasoned or a young and eager teacher, here's what parents really look for in this time, even if they're too embarassed to say so themselves:
1. Parents don't want their kids present at these meetings.
On a weekly basis, kids bring home a ton of art, worksheets and other creations in the elementary years that are presented to parents.
Parents want to be able to have an adult conversation with you without having their child there to show off some portfolio that they have been collecting papers in for months.
2. Parents don't want you to open the conference with, "So, do you have any questions?"
Parents want to end the conference that way. They want you to show and tell them unique things about their child in your class that they did not already know, and, hopefully, any questions they had will be answered by the end of the conference.
3. If you are an elementary school teacher, parents want lots of compliments (but appreciate the truth).
They want to know whether their child is average, below average and, of course, what they really want to hear is that their child is above average. They want specifics—reading level, math competency, writing proficiency, strengths and weaknesses.
They also want to know about their peer relations: Do they have friends? Are they well-liked? Is their kid the mean kid or the bully of the class?
It would be a breath of fresh air if teachers would tell these parents the truth. Too often I hear how parents asked teachers over and over if there were any problems and teachers hesitate to share them until something major happens.
Just tell them. You are the loveliest people on the planet; you will find a sweet and kind way to break the news.
4. If you are a middle school teacher, know that parents are scared and anxious.
They are questioning if the workload is too much. Does their child take too long to complete homework? Is the school too big?
How do they handle so many transitions? And now they worry less about their kid being a bully, and really want to know, "Is my kid being bullied?"
Parents of middle schoolers are walking on eggshells.
Ease their fears, give them information around the average time it should take them to complete their homework, how much time parents should or shouldn't help with homework, standardized test scores and what they actually mean, and if AP and Honors classes are in their child's future.
5. If you're a high school teacher, we all know there is a big drop off in conference attendance.
So, when the parent does still make the effort to attend, ask them how often they check the parent portal. If they say, daily, then don't spend too much time on grades.
Show them where their child sits, share how often they participate and ask them what their child likes, wants to study or what type of learner they are.
Get to know something about this student because you probably know very little about them personally. This is no fault of yours, it is the nature of many high schools.
These questions will help you, whether their child is an "A" student or failing your class.
And parents, if you think your child's teacher hasn't read this list, take control of your precious minutes with them. Be prepared with a list of questions and concerns.
Take some time to think ahead about what you want to learn and get your answers. If you discussed some sort of plan, follow up with an email to get a sense of how the plan is going.
And last but not least, thank that teacher for the work they do, highlight the inspiration they provide to your child and say at least one positive thing to them before you leave.
Sheryl Ziegler, Psy.D. is a Doctor of Psychology who is a consumed by today’s educational system and how it can continue to inspire a new generation of creative, smart and peaceful students everywhere. She continues to provide teacher trainings to preschool, elementary and high school teachers and any chance she can get loves to observe the art of teaching. She hopes that in her next life she will get the privilege to come back as a school teacher.