Parent Teacher Conferences

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teacherI have a unique perspective on parent-teacher conferences (PTC).  I’ve been attending these little academic dances for many years now - First as a student, and obviously now as a parent.  However that does not make my perspective any different than yours.  But being married to a teacher has given me a deeper and a much greater appreciation and understanding of the process.  Let me share some tips and give you some free advice on how to make the most of these meetings....

First of all, I am not complaining about this process (because I know my wife will read this), but since my wife was “the teacher”, she was actually working at these events and I was left to navigate the teacher meetings for our boys.  I definitely had it easier because we only had two boys to deal with and their respective teachers.  As a high school teacher, she will see upwards of 150-200 kids every day, and then add in the 2x multiplier for all the parents on PTC nights and she is worn out.

In our town, the PTC’s change as your child progresses in higher level classes.  In Grade School, they have a single teacher who is with them all day long.  Who sees them learning, struggling, playing games, eating lunch.  These teachers have the opportunity to see your child as a complete person and to assess their social or interpersonal skills as well as intellectual capabilities too.  Just like you most likely have a professional persona while at work (versus at home), your child will not act like “your child” at school.  At this young age, make sure that you take advantage of this PTC opportunity to explore and better understand who your kids become outside of the home environment.  Hopefully it is a pleasant surprise and what you learn can help to open up lines of communication and understanding that is sometimes overlooked while you’re busy being Mom or Dad.  For us it was odd to have teachers and even the janitorial staff always remark about how friendly and polite our boys were.... because at home we were privileged to experience the temper-tantrums; sibling fights; and other frustrations of adolescence.

old teacher professorIn Jr High and High School, we don’t necessarily have one-on-one conferences.  Those schools are much larger, and our kids have multiple teachers throughout the day.  These are closer to an  “Open House” than the grade school PTC’s.  After registering, you are given your child’s class listing and room locations, and then off you go for a 15 minute chat with each teacher.  Essentially you get to mimic your child’s class schedule in an abbreviated sprint that is a much less personal and definitely more hectic.  Because of this process of “speed dating” approach with the teacher conferences, I had to develop a bullet list of items to address.  This helped in a couple of key areas:  First – it optimized the short time with each teacher and respected their time too by focusing on the essentials without all the polite (and witty) banter; and Second – I avoided the dreaded deer-in-the-headlights what-did-you-do post PTC update with my wife later on that night.  I couldn’t skate by and just say everything was fine comments...she needed facts.

Key Points:

  • Do your homework.  Talk to your kids before the PTC to get their perspective about the class; the teacher; and their performance.  Look at their homework; quizzes and tests.  Familiarize yourself with their performance.
  • Budget your time accordingly.  Meet all the teachers, but don’t overdo the proud papa gab session with their favorite teacher in the one class where they are getting an A+ or 120% grades....when you may want to spend some extra time with those classes and teachers where you kids may be struggling.
  • Take notes.  No shame in writing this stuff down when the teacher is talking to you.  They may actually be impressed that you not only showed up but that you care enough to listen and are planning to take some sort of active role.
  • Be respectful.  Teachers are overworked and underpaid – I know firsthand.   But foremost they are professionals who have dedicated themselves to educating your kids.  Give ‘em props dude.
  • Listen carefully.  You have two ears and one mouth....listen twice as much as you talk.

teacher blackboardPTC Focus Items:

  • What are you teaching my child – and what skills should I expect them to master? 
  • What are the performance expectations – and how well is he/she meeting them?
  • How is he/she doing in comparison to the rest of the class – strengths or weaknesses?
  • How is he/she interacting in the classroom (social growth or maturity)?
  • What can I (we) do to help him/her become successful in your class?

Finally you need to follow up and talk with your child afterwards.  Make a plan to address problem areas.  Celebrate successes and reward accomplishments.  Be supportive and encouraging.  And last but not least – thank your child’s teacher for their effort and involvement in raising the next generation of leaders.

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