Teaching Tuesday: Ace Your Parent Teacher Conference

The parent/teacher relationship is weird. I've participated in conferences with parents who were openly hostile to schools in general and me in particular, parents who were high, parents who were drunk, parents who confused my job with baby-sitting, parents who thought I was overpaid, parents who thought I didn't appreciate their special snowflake and parents who contradicted every single thing I said and every piece of (failing) work I showed them.

To that end, here are some suggestions for parents:

  • Show up sober. Sure, it'll be less entertaining that way, but you'll make a much better impression on the teacher. 
  • Remember that the teacher is a professional. Who would get paid more if s/he WAS just baby-sitting all those kids each day (25 kids x 6 hours a day x 180 days a year x $5 an hour = $135,000).
  • Every single kid in the class is someone's special snowflake. Try to look at things from more than just your own perspective. 
  • I'm sorry if you've had unpleasant experiences with teachers and schools in the past. However, unless those were this particular teacher's fault, don't bring them into the conference. 
  • Understand that when the teacher says your kid has problems with boundaries, s/he means that your kid is the one who hits and bothers other children. 
  • Realize that when the teacher says your kid has problems following directions, s/he means that your kid lacks self-control. 
  • Conferences are a time for parents and teachers to work together to make kids successful academically and socially. If the teacher has concerns, it's (usually) not because s/he's out to get your kid, but because s/he wants your kid to succeed. 
  • Ask what you can do to help at home or what tutoring services the teacher recommends, don't demand that the teacher tutor your kid every morning before school for free. 
  • Show up at your appointed time. If you don't know when that is, find out. Before conference day. Please. 

As a parent, I've participated in conferences with teachers who didn't seem to know my kid very well or like him/her very much. I've also known certain former colleagues who didn't quite know how to have a successful parent teacher conference. Here are some tips for them:

  • Be sober. Again, less entertaining, but much more effective. 
  • Know and love each of your students. If you can't do that, it's time to get an administrative job. 
  • Gather your data. Don't just say that little Billy is struggling with spelling, show his last several tests and his daily work. 
  • Have some suggestions at hand. If little Susie has problems remembering her math facts and you want her to do flash cards every night, have those ready to go for the conference. 
  • Try to start and end positively. 
  • Remember that while you're the education expert (at least, I hope you are), the parent is the expert on his or her child. Value those insights. 
  • Don't take anything personally. 
  • Sit in a chair similar to what the parent has to sit in. In other words, don't sit in your comfy, padded desk chair while the parents sit in first grade sized ones. 
  • Some people have to bring their younger kids with them to the conference; try to set up a coloring or play area so that they are entertained. 

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