Parent-teacher conferences are, of course, about your child. But it’s useful to start by focusing on the teacher and expressing thanks for all s/he is doing for your child. Teachers have enormously demanding jobs carried out under increasingly stressful conditions including lowered budgets, scarce supplies and larger class sizes. The gratitude must be genuine and reflect actual events, encounters and behaviors. They might involve notes you have seen on tests or homework assignments, remarks your child has made about what the teacher has said and done, comments the teacher may have sent home to you, etc. Appreciation is an invaluable commodity.
Then once the discussion moves on to your child, it is useful to offer comments about your child that the teacher may not be aware of, but that may serve to enable the teacher to better understand what is occurring in the classroom. This can be both strengths and weaknesses. This is particularly important if unusual or special events are happening at home that are affecting how your child is behaving.
You should also be ready to ask questions—questions that you thought about and formulated in advance of the meeting. These can include (but need not be limited to) the following: How is my child doing in class? Is my child performing at grade level? How is s/he doing compared to the rest of the class? What do you see as his or her strengths? How might I help at home with challenges my child is facing in class? What is the best way to stay in contact—to handle any issues that arise?
Once you get home, depending on your child’s age, abilities and patterns of interaction, you may find it useful to discuss with him or her what transpired during the conference. Do not phrase the information in ways that might arouse negative responses such as anxiety, resentment or shame. Rather present it as an initial step in helping your child have a better experience in the classroom. It is also helpful if you or you and your child set out a realistic plan that you can be followed to achieve the goals you have.
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