Parent-teacher conferences are more than just an opportunity to see your child’s classroom and the work he or she has accomplished so far in the school year. Having an honest, detailed conversation with the teacher about your child’s behavior, performance, strengths, and weaknesses sets the stage for you to be a more effective partner with the teacher, and a more effective advocate for your child.
The problem is that many parents go into conferences with their child’s teacher expecting a glowing report, and don’t ask probing questions that will give them insight into ways they can better support their child’s learning. It always feels good to hear nice things about your child, but if you aren’t aware of how the classroom operates, you are doing a disservice to both your child and the teacher.
While there are many possible questions you can ask during the parent-teacher conference, you have limited time and will need to address the most important issues. To do so, consider focusing on these three vital questions.
1. What Would You Like to Know About My Child That Will Help You?Some teachers have started asking parents to write letters or fill out questionnaires regarding their child at the beginning of the school year, in an effort to learn more about students and their family lives, their interests, their quirks, and more. However, not all teachers do this, and as a parent it’s your job to provide insights into your child that the teacher may not gain from their classroom interactions.
There may be questions that your child’s teacher feels uncomfortable asking, and giving him or her the opening to do so can open the lines of communication. One of the fundamentals of teaching that teachers learn in an advanced degree program is that it is important to create a safe, positive learning environment for all students. Sometimes, simply knowing that a student loves to build blanket forts in the living room is what a teacher needs to reach a student more effectively.
2. What Are the Expectations/Standards for Learning This Year and How Are They Measured?One of the major disconnects that parents have when it comes to their child’s education is that they compare their child’s educational experience to their own. “I learned multiplication tables in third grade — why are you studying them in first!” they might exclaim. Today’s educational models, including the learning standards, methods of instruction, and expected outcomes, are vastly different from what many parents experienced. Coupled with the many media reports — and viral photos and blog posts about elementary school homework — and parents may have skewed perceptions about what their child is learning and how it’s being taught.
During the parent-teacher conference, ask for clarification on the points that you don’t understand. Ask what your child is expected to know by the end of the school year, and how the teacher will assess that learning. Standardized tests get a lot of attention, but schools are also using other tools to gauge student learning and achievement. When you know what the school is trying to accomplish, and how they are going about it, you can more effectively augment their efforts — or advocate for change, if necessary.
3. What Can We Do at Home to Support Your Efforts in the Classroom?Education doesn’t take place only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Curious young minds are learning all the time, and it’s important for you to support those efforts. At the minimum, this means supplying a quiet, safe place for studying, ensuring your child gets a good night’s sleep, and making school a priority. However, your child’s teacher may have other ideas for you. For example, he or she may ask you to read more with your child or help him or her choose age-appropriate books to share with the class. Asking the teacher for ideas on how you can support learning at home shows that you want to be a partner in your child’s education.
Parent-teacher conferences can be more than just a time to fawn over your child’s artwork and learn that he or she works well with others. When you ask the right questions, you can improve the educational experience for everyone involved.