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Preparing for a School Conference

It seems strange, yet it is often the case, that Mrs. J (who is a model of competence and self-assurance at her job or running her home) or Mr. J (who is a pillar of strength and confidence at his place of business) can turn into masses of quivering jelly when faced with the prospect of a parent-teacher conference about their child.

What can be done to lessen the trauma? Happily, many techniques for making the parent-teacher conference a valuable, rewarding, even relaxing experience do exist.

How you feel about your child’s teacher is certainly going to spill over into the conference, and it is best to get your thinking straight before the meeting.

This is a professional, one who has been trained to teach children. As such, she deserves your respect although you must never lose sight of the fact that she is also a human being and, therefore, susceptible to the same human errors and frailties as you.

Although you are convinced-and rightly so-that no one knows your child as well as you do, you should remember that the teacher spends 6-7 hours daily, week in and week out, with your youngster and probably knows him pretty well-better, in fact, than you suspect she does.

Teachers would rather give a positive than a negative report on a child. They really would! The reason for this is obvious. It reflects favorably on their teaching abilities and reinforces feelings of worth and competence.

The teacher is sacrificing some of her own free time to meet with you. (Rare is the conference that is held during school hours.) Home and family and all that they involve will probably be awaiting her attention after she has finished talking with you. Therefore, it is important that the conference not be unduly prolonged with non-essentials such as descriptions of your other children, your job, et cetera. She will truly appreciate your honest endeavor to respect her time and stay on target.

Your attitude toward the teacher is most likely based in part on things your child has told you. It’s wise to bear in mind the familiar quote from the teacher who said, “If you promise not to believe any of Johnny’s wild stories about what I do at school, I’ll promise not to believe any of his wild stories about what you do at home. ” Make up your own mind about this person from what you see and hear.”

Communication

It’s important that you fully understand the message the teacher is trying to transmit. Some teachers, through kindness, try to blur bad news. Others may resort to the educational jargonese so incomprehensible to the layman. This is when you must summon up your courage and say, “I don’t understand that word-or that phrase–or that sentence. And it is critical that I do understand. Could you perhaps use simpler language?” (Mothers hate to admit this and fathers certainly do!) And so they sit and nod patiently as brains and eyeballs begin to glaze. It may be necessary to ask for documentation-for example, if the teacher says, “Your child has perceptual problems,” ask for a work sample that illustrates this. Then find out the ramifications of the problem and what is being or can be done about it.

The conference is made up of (at least) two people, both of whom are interested in the wellbeing of the child. Therefore, there should be a feeling of give and take, questions and answers and opinions from all participants.

A conference is not a power struggle, not a case of one person’s dominance, but a serious meeting of the minds where all points of view are equally considered. The teacher’s views are of critical importance but your views are important, too. If your method of communication is respectful and its content relevant, your chances of being “heard” are greatly enhanced.

Body language can be important. A parent who leans slightly forward in the chair and maintains eye contact with the teacher is demonstrating full attention and active participation.

Don’t grow tense if the teacher asks questions that, to you, seem unrelated to academic problems. She may inquire about sleep habits, preferred foods or the amount of television a child watches. These are not meant to pry but will tell the teacher how the child is responding to a variety of situations-and perhaps, when necessary, she can suggest alternatives.

Never forget-your sense of humor will lighten many a situation and ease the tension for all.

Do Your Homework

Have you paid particular attention to the papers your child has been bringing home from school! They’re easy to overlook, particularly if they are scrunched up into little balls and stowed away in the pockets of jeans and coats. You don’t want to be caught off guard if the teacher says, “I’m sure you’ve noticed that Johnny never finishes an assignment.”

It will add to the teacher’s perspective of the child if you describe some of the behaviors you are noting at home-for example, if the child is particularly neat (or messy) about taking care of his room, let the teacher know. It may neatly fit into what she is witnessing in the classroom.

Miscellaneous

If, for one reason or another, your child has been tested, you will doubtless be given the results. But there’s more to tests than just scores. You will also need to know precisely what that particular test was measuring, why it was given, and what it suggests in terms of ongoing needs.

Should the child attend a parent-teacher conference? Quite often it is helpful for the child to be present although he should never be made to feel that a team of adults are “ganging up” on him He should be encouraged to share his feelings about his progress or lack thereof. If the adults are prepared to listen attentively, the child may provide some valuable clues to his needs and attitudes.

Do not be alarmed if the teacher asks another member of the school staff to attend the conference-for example, the principal, the school nurse, the school psychologist, or a speech and Ian” teacher. These specialists are there because they have something share perhaps a significant observation-that will help develop better learning patterns and styles for your child.

A Final Note

During your child’s academic career, parent-teacher conferences are a way of life just as PTA meetings, class open houses, special programs in which your child performs, et cetera. Like all other events that are significant in your child’s life, they can be approached with optimism and a firm conviction that if a spirit of good will and optimism prevails, your child will, indeed, prosper.

Suggested Reading

Building Successful Parent-Teacher Partnerships (A guide for parents and teachers)

Bad Teachers : The Essential Guide for Concerned Parents (Through sample situations and a wealth of information on today’s educational system, Guy Strickland–a teacher and school administrator for over 30 years–offers a practical approach to determine if a child’s learning roadblocks stem from a bad teacher, and if so, how to solve that problem right away)