Communicating with School / Ages 5-13

5 Common School Dilemmas and How to Talk About Them at Parent-Teacher Conferences

From social dynamics to homework hysterics, here are some ways to talk to your child’s teacher about common school challenges.

Parent-teacher conference season is upon us already! These meetings are always important opportunities to connect with your child’s teacher, learn more about how they’re doing in school, and trouble-shoot any challenges that might be coming up.

But this year, they might be more important than ever, because recent data shows just how rough pandemic school interruptions have been for kids. Kids are struggling in practically every area of school, from reading to math to social-emotional health. And your child’s report card might not tell the whole story of how they’re doing, because teachers are (understandably) reluctant to give students poor grades, given just how tough these past few years have been. That’s well-intentioned, but it means you might think your child is doing better than they really are—and you need the full picture in order to get them the support they need, whether that’s with their literacy or their mental health.

As you plan ahead for these important conversations, make sure to ask these key questions to understand how your child is doing.

Beyond the basics, here are some ideas for how to approach different situations that might have come up for your child:


If homework is a battle every night…

Talk to your child’s teacher about what kind of work they’re bringing home. Are there particular subjects that are challenging for your child? Ask your child’s teacher if they’re observing similar struggles in class. If so, it might mean they need a little extra support in those learning areas. If not, it might just be that your after school routine needs some shaking up. (Have you tried postponing homework until after a solid snack and some free play or relaxation time? Try that and these other suggestions, too.)


If your child doesn’t want to go to school and seems unhappy in school…

We hear you: It’s so hard to see your kid unhappy. Again, a good starting point is to ask what your child’s teacher observes in class. Is your child engaging positively with other kids? Do they seem to be following the classroom routines with ease, or are they having a hard time? Your child’s teacher is juggling a whole class full of kids, so it’s important to raise your concerns so they know to check in more regularly with your child throughout the day. If particular subjects seem to be the source of their frustration, again, don’t hesitate to ask the teacher what kinds of support are available to be sure they’re keeping up with the learning.


If you’re struggling to get your child to read at home…

Your kid comes home from school and just wants to play or sit in front of a screen. We get it. They’ve been learning all day, they’re tired, and not everyone enjoys relaxing with a book. Maybe your child hasn’t quite figured out what kinds of books they enjoy, and that’s okay. But if you’re concerned that their reading reluctance might be due to struggles with reading at grade level, it’s important to ask the teacher what they’re observing in school. Ask them to walk you through your child’s most recent literacy assessment data to help you understand how they’re doing. If your child isn’t reading at grade level, what kinds of support or interventions are they receiving in school?


If your child says they’re bored in school...

Sometimes kids just say they’re bored, right? Observe them during homework time and come prepared to talk to your child’s teacher about what you see. If your child seems appropriately challenged by the work, maybe their boredom is nothing to be too concerned about. But if they’re racing through their homework, it might be too easy for them. The National Parent-Teacher Association has handy guides to the learning standards for every grade level, which can help you understand what your child is supposed to be working on this year. The parent-teacher conference is a great time to ask how the teacher is making sure your kid is reaching the appropriate learning goals for their grade. Finally, if you and your child’s teacher agree that they’re ready for a bigger challenge, have a conversation about how they can extend their learning by taking on additional projects, reading more challenging books, or engaging with online learning apps or tools that can push them along.


If your child is having issues with a peer…

Explain your child’s perspective on the issue, then ask for the teacher’s observations and any other information they might have from the other child’s family. Does this seem like an issue that needs adult intervention, or is everyone comfortable letting the kids work it out on their own? (Or just move on, as kids often do.) If you’re concerned that your child might really be experiencing bullying at school, be clear with the teacher about their experience. (Again, it’s helpful to hear if the teacher or other family has a different perspective on what happened.) Then ask the teacher what steps are in place to make sure the situation is addressed and monitored in the future. Finally, consider making a plan with your child and their teacher for what they’ll do (and where they’ll turn for help) if issues come up again.

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