Why Parent-Teacher Conferences Are Important
As the end of the first 9 weeks approaches, teachers in central Arkansas schools will begin scheduling parent-teacher conferences. These one-on-one meetings are an essential way for parents to review their child’s academic, social and behavioral progress in school and, ideally, forge a partnership to help the child improve or continue to succeed.
Recently, however, a University of New Hampshire researcher who has studied parent-teacher interactions for a decade released some interesting findings about school conferences. While the meetings are intended to be a student performance review, they often boil down to an evaluation of the parent and the teacher, by each other.
“Parents and teachers behave in a way suggesting that they are each treating the conference as an occasion for their own performance review,” Danielle Pillet-Shore, assistant professor of communication at UNH, says in a statement about her findings. They use the student’s progress “as a gauge of how the teacher is doing at his or her job of ‘being a teacher’ and how the parent is doing at his or her job of ‘being a parent.’”
Pillet-Shore has found that parents – instead of defending their children to a teacher – actually convey more criticism than praise. They often share unsolicited negative information about their child with the teacher. They do this, Pillet-Shore says, to show teachers that they’re aware of their child’s potential or problems and to talk about their own efforts to improve these.
“In short, during parent-teacher conferences, parents manifest a pervasive concern to show teachers, ‘I’m a good parent,’ ” she says.
Teachers are More Positive
Teachers actually encourage these parent observations by asking parents during a conference to talk about how they think their child is doing, Pillet-Shore says.
“Doing this makes the teacher’s job easier. Allowing parents the opportunity to articulate potential/actual student troubles first enables teachers to subsequently agree with and build upon what the parent has already said,” she says. And that allows the teacher to demonstrate that he or she is also doing a good job.
Further, while teachers are often perceived as overly critical of students, Pillet-Shore has found that the opposite is true: In conferences, teachers overwhelmingly work to keep talk about individual students positive and optimistic.
They often respond to a parent’s criticism of his or her child with face-saving statements like, “That’s not atypical of kids” or “For a 12-year-old boy, normal is pretty flaky,” Pillet-Shore says. Teachers also try to show parents what a student actually “knows” versus what the student “shows she knows,” and they usually promise a natural resolution to any current problems.
“It is the teacher who consistently works to end the parent-teacher conference interaction on a positive note, delivering future-oriented, favorable or optimistic comments about the student,” Pillet-Shore says.
How to Prepare for the Conference
Parent-teacher conferences are regularly scheduled at most schools. But parents can also request one for specific concerns. These tips from the National Parent Teacher Association and the National Education Association will help you make the most of your parent-teacher conference:
• Call or write a note to set up an appointment to discuss your concerns. Briefly state your reasons for the meeting so the teacher can prepare
• Find out in advance how much time you will have. If you feel that you need more time, let the teacher know.
• Talk to your child ahead of time to find out if there is anything she would like you to discuss during the meeting. Assure her that you and her teacher are meeting to help her. Consider including your child in the meeting if you think it’s appropriate.
• Make a list of questions and don’t be afraid to ask them. Give some thought to the goals you may have for your child and share them with the teacher.
Begin the conference on a positive note. Tell the teacher what kind of progress you’ve noticed and what your child enjoys. Thank the teacher for meeting with you. Here are some questions you may want to ask:
• How much time should my child be spending on assigned homework each night?
• How much help should I give my child on homework?
• How are you measuring my child’s progress? Through tests? Portfolios of his work? Class participation? Projects? A combination of these?
• Does my child participate in class discussion and activities?
• Does she complete and hand in all homework assignments?
• What future projects are planned?
• Is my child getting along with the other children?
• What are the classroom rules and how do you enforce them?
Develop a Plan and Initiate It
If your child is having difficulties, either socially or academically, this is the time to find out if they are school- or home-related, what the teacher can do to help and what assistance you can provide at home.
• Make notes of the teacher’s specific suggestions for helping your child at home.
• Before you leave the meeting, agree on a specific plan to help your child.
• Set up a way to check your child’s progress. Let the teacher know how to reach you and make sure that you know how to report back to the teacher.
• Review what you have discussed and restate your action plan.
• If you do not agree with the teacher, respectfully tell her this and let her know that you will continue to explore the issue further with her.
• Discuss the plan with your child.
• Follow through at home, as you have agreed to do.
• Stay in touch with the teacher to discuss your child’s progress and, if necessary, plan a follow-up conference.
– Reprinted with permission from Parenthood.com, a national website providing parenting and child development articles, tips and resources.