Parent-Teacher Conferences

Squawk box in the corner of the classroom: “Mrs. Teacher, please send Kim to the principal’s office.” “Oooooh…you’re in trou-ble!” “What did you do?!”

Each step toward the office feels like my feet are gaining mass and it is harder and harder to work against gravity to lift up my legs and walk forward. My stomach feels like I’ve swallowed a butterfly garden and my mind is racing to every wrong thing I’ve done in my life to figure out why I would have to go see Mr. Principal. It takes about three years to walk from my classroom to the office. I am nearly in tears and am a mess of anxiety and fear.

This may have been when I was nine, but I can still remember the feelings and emotions like they were yesterday. Not. So. Fun.

Have you ever had those same feelings when waiting outside the door of a teacher’s classroom while waiting for the conference to begin? All sorts of thoughts can run through your mind…
What if my kid isn’t doing as well as I thought in class?
What if my kid is the smelly one?
What if I don’t like her?
What if she doesn’t like me, or worse, my kid?
What if she is Mrs. Viola Swamp? (remember this book?)

 

Or, perhaps you find yourself in the opposite situation. You have found a trusted ally in your child’s teacher and cannot wait to spend more time with him. You may have worked with her with the PTO or perhaps had her for a previous child. I have had it both ways. I cannot say enough about my kids’ kindergarten teacher! I mean, look at these sweet notes she sent in the mail last year:

If you are “waiting for the principal”, I find going in with plan can help calm your nerves and lessen some of the sense of helplessness. If you are meeting with a dear friend, a plan can help you stay focused on the task at hand during those few precious moments you have to spend together. Here are my tips on planning ahead:

Ask questions. I like to know how my child is doing in 4 different areas: academics, social, emotional and behavior. Here are some questions to ask about each one:
Academics:

  • Often, the teacher will have standardized test scores to share with you. Be sure to ask for clarification for what they mean. You should also be sure to understand what the teacher uses this data for. Does he use it to determine academic placement or intervention strategies? Is it only for the district and has no bearing on the classroom?
  • What is my child’s reading level? How can I find books within that level online, at the bookstore, at the library? How do you give credit/grade their outside reading?
  • How do you assess reading levels? Where can I find an explanation of those tests?
  • Do you find that the test results reflect what my child is displaying in class? Why or why not?
  • My child is particularly challenged by __________ class. Do you know of any online resources or tutoring tips that can help us help him?

Social:

  • Who does my child choose to spend her time with?
  • Do his social interactions line up with maturity and expectations for his grade/age?
  • Is there anything you have noticed that we should be talking to her about at home?
  • My child seems to be struggling to get along well with __________. Have you noticed anything between them? I realize it is usually both kids involved, so are there any suggestions you have for us as parents so that we can come up with reasonable solutions to the problem? (realize that the teacher cannot give much information about the other child and can only speak to you about your child.)

Emotional:

  • What kinds of emotions do you notice my child experiencing during school?
  • Does he deal with them in an age appropriate manner?
  • At home, my child struggles with expressing _____________ appropriately. Have you noticed this? We deal with it by ______ and it really seems to help.

Behavioral:

  • How often does my child show frustration? How can you tell when he is frustrated?
  • Are the behaviors he exhibits during these moments acceptable? If not, what can we do to help him express frustration in an appropriate manner?
  • What kinds of strategies have you tried to help him overcome these behaviors? Have you tried _____? It worked well last year or at home.

A few other things to keep in mind:

  • Teachers, barring the rare exception, want to see each and every child be successful. She has your child’s best interests at heart and in mind when she is planning lessons and troubleshooting how to teach the class. Think the best of her and her intentions. He will usually be on your side if you are kind and seek to work together.
  • Start off positive. Find something you like about this school year and compliment the teacher on what he is doing.
  • The class size is likely too large. Budget cuts and like nonsense are filling teacher’s classrooms with more students every year. 28-32 elementary students in one class is taxing. She is working her hardest and giving her best to the kids. One-on-one interactions are few and far between. Give grace for that fact.
  • If the teacher doesn’t like you, it will be hard for her to like your student. So, don’t go in with guns ablazin’ accusing and indicting straight away. If you disagree, be sure to ask for clarification and explanation of why he chooses to do certain things. Honest, yet gentle communication will go a long way to make this school year one of the best.

P.S. When I was 9, I was called to the office because I had a phone call. My mom was on the other end to tell me that I had become an aunt again. Although I wasn’t in trouble, it sure felt bad. Now, in HS, when I was called in…well, that’s a different story all together.