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Make the Most of Parent-Teacher Conferences

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 28, 2001 – What is it about sitting in a too-small chair with knees banging on a too-small desk listening to your child's teacher speak about the little apple of your eye that makes grown adults want to raise their hands before speaking?

It's that time of year again -- parent-teacher conferences have rolled around. But, education experts insist, teachers aren't to be feared. And with a little preparation, the conferences can be very fruitful.

Preparation and an open mind are the keys to a successful conference, said Mary Patton, coordinator of Pupil Personnel Services for the Department of Defense Education Activity here. PPS is the department that oversees school counselors, psychologists, nurses and social workers.

"Remember that it's in the child's best interest for the parent and the teacher to be on the same side," Patton said.

Before the conference, Patton said, parents should sit down with their child and "discuss what's happening at school." Parents should make a list of their child's responses and be prepared to discuss the list at the conference, she said.

Some things parents should ask their children are: What subject does the child enjoy most? Which subject is especially easy or difficult?

To keep nervousness to a minimum, Patton said it's also important to keep children informed along the way.

"Share the list with your child, and let him know that you will discuss the conference with him after it's over," she said. "If the teacher says it's OK, having the child with you in the conference is a good idea, particularly if it's a conference where you know you need to make an improvement plan for your child's performance."

During the conference, parents should keep an open mind, Patton said, and always start with something positive. If parents get to a conference and haven't armed themselves with a positive comment, they should take a second to look around the classroom.

"Most teachers work very hard to make a nice, warm atmosphere for your child to work in," she said. "You can always mention that."

Conversely, teachers should always have something positive to say about their students. "If the teacher doesn't tell you something positive about your child, ask," Patton said.

Parents should share their list with the teacher and make sure they let the teacher know the child was involved in making it. Then they should ask to see examples of their child's written work.

Patton said it's also important for parents to let teachers know about any family crises that may come up. This lets the teacher know that something unusual may be bothering your child.

"In a time of crisis it is important for the parent to share information on how the crisis is affecting the family and the child," Patton said. "The parents should be as up- front and honest as possible with the teacher and counselor so that the best education plan can be developed to help the child learn during a crisis."

She noted that children can react in many different ways to stress and grief, and it's important for teachers to know what the child might be going through.

Some other areas to inquire about, if applicable, are:

  • Homework policy. "Especially if your child doesn't seem to be handing in the homework," Patton said.

  • Grading system. She pointed out that grading systems change from area to area.

  • Is the child performing on grade level? "Especially during the first conference, it's good to know whether or not your child is reading and performing math on grade level," Patton said.

  • Special programs. "If the student's having trouble learning, maybe it's worth looking at an evaluation for a learning-disabilities class," she said. "If English is a second language for either the student or the parent, that should be looked at, and gifted and talented programs are something else to consider."

  • Social skills. "Sometimes children who have not been around a lot of other children at an early age don't really relate well to other children," Patton said. "It's difficult if they don't know how to share and play."

Before they leave the conference, parents should review what was said with the teacher, Patton said. "Sometimes what we say and what we hear are a little bit different," she said.

She said that some parents find it helpful to take notes during the conference. "You've come in with a written list, it's a good idea to go out with one," she said. This makes it easier for parents to share what happened at the conference with their children.

Parents should always discuss the conference with their child and point out the positive things that were said first, Patton said.

"Your child is already nervous thinking the teacher is going to tell Mom or Dad all the negative things," she said. "Your child needs to know that parent-teacher conferences aren't necessarily a negative thing, that they're meant to help him."

Sometimes issues arise that can't be resolved by just talking to the teacher, or perhaps the teacher is part of the problem. "First, try to solve the problem with the teacher," Patton said. "If you can't solve it with the teacher, it's fair to tell the teacher that you feel like you need intervention."

That intervention should probably first come in the form of the school guidance counselor, Patton said. "Ask the guidance counselor what to do," she said. "It might even be a good idea to have a conference with the guidance counselor and the teacher."

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Related Sites:
AFPS News Article: Education Agency Looks at School Classes
DoDEA web site

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