Parent-teacher conferences really matter -- and they're also really short. In most cases, the conversation with your child's teacher will only last 10-20 minutes. How should you make the most of that time? Try focusing on these four questions:
1. Is my child performing on grade level?
Encourage the teacher to be honest, and ask to see actual examples of work that show your child's progress and any areas of development. Listen for phrases like "with some hard work, she'll get there," which may be a nice way of saying she's struggling. If you hear a line like that, push for more information: How far off track is she? What skills is she struggling with, specifically? What's the teacher's plan for getting her back on track?
2. What's the most important thing my child should focus on?
This might be building vocabulary, reading independently or understanding fractions. Or it might be getting to class on time every day or doing homework more consistently. Every student is different. Find out what's keeping your child from achieving the next learning milestone so that you can support her. Don't accept general answers like "math" -- you want more detail than that. What about math is a challenge for her? Understanding place values? Knowing the multiplication table? Long division?
3. What can I do at home to help my child?
It's hard to support your child's learning at home if you don't know how. Ask the teacher for examples of concrete things you can do to help your child practice the skills you discuss. For example, if vocabulary is an area of focus, the teacher might suggest using flashcards for 5-10 minutes every night. Don't be afraid to ask the teacher to demonstrate how you can help your child, so you know exactly what to do.
4. What's my child like in class?
Kids act differently at school and at home. Here, too, ask for specifics: Who does your child talk to? When does she seem most engaged? What role does she usually play in the classroom? This is a good way to get some insight into your child's behavior and relationships at school and can provide an opportunity to talk about any differences you see between how she acts at home and at school.
More Parent-Teacher Conference Tips
- Come prepared: Make notes about topics you want to address, focusing on the top 2-3.
- Involve your child: Consider bringing your child with you! Seeing parents and teachers working together as a team can be powerful. Either way, talk to your child about the meeting afterwards.
- Help teachers understand your home life: Use the opportunity to explain anything happening at home that may be affecting your child at school.
- Ask for plain English: Teachers sometimes use education jargon that's hard to understand. Ask them to rephrase anything that is confusing to you.
- Don't be afraid to ask for a follow up: These are short conversations, and you want to respect other parents' time. If there's too much to discuss, set up another time to talk in person or by phone.