Make parent-teacher conferences work
By Lynne Wikoff
According to the school calendar (if not the thermometer!), the fall school season is here. This means parent-teacher conferences are just around the corner, a fact that strikes fear in the hearts of parents everywhere. Whether their anxiety results from worry that their children aren't doing well or that they'll be found lacking as parents, or from the fact that their own school years were unpleasant, the truth is that many parents approach these conferences with the same enthusiasm they'd have for root canal work.
But parent-teacher meetings are important to building communication and understanding between home and school that will ultimately help children be more successful. Parents can reduce their stress and participate more effectively in conferences with their children's teachers by preparing ahead of time, just as you would prepare for a job interview or business meeting.
Here are some helpful hints from the National Education Association and the National Parent Education Network.
Before the conference: Think about any of your child's personality traits, habits or problems you'd like the teacher to know about, and what questions you have about your child's progress or about the school's programs. Seek input from your children, too. For example, ask them what they like best about school, what is most difficult and whether there is anything important to ask the teacher. If there is a particular family problem you'd like to mention, discuss what should be said so your child won't feel betrayed.
It's a good idea to make notes to bring with you so you don't forget anything important. You might also want to review schoolwork your children have brought home so you'll be familiar with what is being assigned and how your child is doing. If you have any questions about the work, bring along samples to go over with the teacher.
At the conference: Suggestions for questions to ask include: Is my child in different groups for different subjects, and if so, why? How well does he/she get along with others? What are his/her best and worst subjects? Is my child working up to his or her ability? Does he/she need special help in any academic subject or in social adjustment? Does he/she participate in class discussions and activities? Have there been any sudden changes in how my child acts? What testing has been done, and what do the results tell about my child's progress?
Begin with your most important questions in case there isn't time to go over everything. Also, be sure to ask the teacher for specific suggestions for ways you can help your child do better. If you're not sure about any of the teacher's explanations, don't be shy about asking follow-up questions. If areas for improvement are identified, end the conference by agreeing on an action plan. If necessary, ask to meet again.
After the conference: Discuss the gist of the conference with your child, emphasizing how much you and the teacher care about helping him or her do well. Begin immediately on the action plan you and the teacher worked out. To be sure the plan is working, periodically check your child's classwork and homework, and pay attention to his or her behavior for clues about how things are going. Then stay in touch with the teacher to discuss your child's progress and make any needed changes to your action plan.
By working together with your child's teacher, you'll help make sure your child gets the best education possible.
Lynne Wikoff is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer who holds a master's degree in social work with an emphasis on child development. She has raised a daughter, now in her mid-20s, and a stepson, now 40, and she hangs out regularly with her twin 10-year-old step-grandchildren.
Wikoff and fellow Hawai'i parent Ka'ohua Lucas take turns writing the Family Matters column. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future topics, write: Family Matters, 'Ohana Section, The Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or fax 535-8170.