Parent-Teacher Conferences

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Teachers, like most people, have a reputation in your community. This teacher is "the nice one" and that teacher is "the structured one." Depending on your child's personality, talents and challenges, you decide that your child absolutely must have "this teacher" in order to be successful. When your child gets assigned to "that teacher's" class, you fret and worry about how he or she will ever survive the year. Parent-teacher conferences role around at the end of October, and you are now sitting face to face with the person who will lead your child on this leg of her educational marathon.

The most important thing to remember when going into your child's conference is to suspend your preconceived notions and go to the meeting with an open mind. You may see a different side to the teacher or find that he or she is not "the mean one" after all. Listen to what she has to say and be receptive to her educational opinion on your child's class work.

In addition to coming into the meeting with an open mind, here are some other tips for having a productive parent teacher conference this fall.

Prepare questions Come prepared with specific questions. Make a list and leave space to take notes on the teacher's response. Keep in mind that most conferences have a time limit- typically about ten minutes- so narrow down your list to the most important three or four questions. It is better to spend time discussing three or four questions in depth than to rush through ten questions.

Stay on topic The upcoming 3rd grade holiday party may pop into your head while speaking with the teacher but this is not the time to talk about it. Make a column on your notes for "Questions for Tomorrow." Write a note or an email to the teacher with that list of questions the next day. Start the email thanking her for the conference and let her know you didn't want to waste valuable conference time on "housekeeping" issues.

Only talk about your child Now is not the time to clear the air about playground quarrels or disagreements between the class mothers. It is simply inappropriate to discuss your child's classmates with the teacher. The teacher does not want to referee or be involved in any way with these types of discussions. Putting her in that position will leave her feeling uncomfortable and the more you bash others when speaking with the teacher, the less she will want to communicate with you.

Ask for homeworkAsk the teacher for one or two things that you can spend time working on at home. Every student has a skill or an area that could use some extra reinforcement. Teaches know that you don't have a degree in education so be comfortable asking for specific ways you can support your child at home. Ask for strategies or techniques to use and follow up in a few weeks to let her know how it's going.

Save your marital problems for a counselor Do not let your personal relationship issues rear their ugly head during the conference. It is not uncommon for spouses to disagree on parenting techniques, but now is not the time to discuss your differences. Be careful not to let "I agree with you but he doesn't think so" slip out either. You must maintain your composure during conferences, even if you and your spouse are in the midst of an argument. Many teachers have been put in the middle of disagreements between spouses and it makes for an awkward situation. Remember, this is your child's teacher and she has no place mediating for you and your spouse.

Parents are usually eager to have the teacher's attention during conferences and teachers look forward to the opportunity to keep parents informed about their child's progress. If you feel your conversation needs to go beyond the brief conference, ask the teacher for a follow up meeting or phone conference later in the week.

Remember to keep an open mind when meeting your child's teacher. Some of the most amazing educators feel a lot of pressure during conferences and therefore have trouble sharing their knowledge and insight with parents in this format. Do not interrupt the teacher or finish her thoughts. Let her get her point across and then respond.

Always thank the teacher for her time and her work, even if you disagree with her opinions or techniques. "Thank you for your time" shows that you respect her position and are willing to have a positive relationship that will ultimately benefit your child.

Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.