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Effective Parent-Teacher Conferences

September 30, 2008
by Lindsey Chapman
For some students, the 2008 school year is nearly a month old. For parents, this means parent-teacher conferences are right around the corner. Here are some tips for having a productive discussion with your child’s teacher, when it comes time to discuss your child’s progress.

Do Your Homework Before You Go

Whether you’ve scheduled an appointment with your child’s teacher, or the teacher has made a special request that you come in for a visit, it will be beneficial to prepare for a parent-teacher conference beforehand. The National Education Association recommends that adults visit with their children before the meeting to learn how they feel about school and their teacher. Write some notes about your child’s behavior at home, and be prepared to ask some questions about how your child is progressing in class, and what you can do to coordinate your efforts with the teacher’s.

Need something a little more specific about what to ask at a parent-teacher meeting? Use these sample questions from Family Education for inspiration.

Should you bring your child in?

In 2007, a Texas legislator proposed making it a misdemeanor offense (complete with a $500 fine) for parents to skip a parent-teacher conference. While a state education association mentioned that threat of punishment might not be the way to encourage more parents to attend these conferences, Emily Bazelon of Slate said the legislator who suggested the idea had a point: parent-teacher conferences can be beneficial, especially when the parents, teachers and students engage in a three-way conversation together. “From a teacher’s perspective, conferences are useful because they push you to reflect on each kid and her schoolwork,” Bazelon explained. “To go through a child’s portfolio with her, and talk together about her academic progress and behavior, would be all the more meaningful.”

A few other qualities can be taught by bringing students to a parent-teacher conference, according to the Boston Globe. It can teach children to address authority figures confidently, accept responsibility for their performance in school and to examine their work objectively and recognize their own progress.

What should you talk about besides academic work?

You might think that school is all about reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic, but those aren’t the only subjects you should discuss at a parent-teacher conference. Time Magazine points out that this is a prime opportunity to see how well your child interacts with others, participates in groups and generally shows good values and respect to others. Talk to the teacher about what you can do to reinforce these qualities, along with what academic lessons you can teach at home to help your youngster become a more well-rounded person.

What if there’s a problem?

In cases where a child is having problems at school, a parent-teacher conference may be a little nerve-wracking—for everybody. But there are ways to avoid a confrontational situation with your child’s instructor. Disney Family recommends that parents think before they speak in an emotional situation; word choice can make all the difference in how parents and teachers relate to each other. Third grade teacher Kelly Darby said, “If they work with the teacher and form a team, creating a home-school connection, the lines of communication will always be open and you’ll always be working for the same purpose.”

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