How to Have an Effective Parent-Teacher Conference*
Pepper, Susan, Children's Voice
* With (Relatively) Little Stress
Attending your child's parent-teacher conference can be one of life's more stressful events. All parents get a bit defensive when discussing their children with someone who is practically a stranger. The environment can amplify this tension. Walking down the school's waxed corridors can cause old emotions to surface-a favorite teacher, an unpleasant experience with a principal, difficulty with an academic subject. Squeezing into a student desk or miniature chair can further diminish a parent's stature in discussing student progress.
This is not neutral territory. Teachers, even in this day and time, are authority figures. They can control volumes of students with a raised eyebrow. Grown men and women arrive with sweaty palms and leave with questions unanswered about their most precious child due to sheer unease and nervousness.
Often, parents worry that a candid discussion may have a negative effect on how their children are treated in the classroom. And parents may have already heard an earful from their children about every aspect of the school's operations-from food to unfair practices in physical education to perceived teachers' pets. Negotiating a truce to a world war pales in comparison to the diplomacy parents must muster.
Navigating parent-teacher conferences can be tricky, but hopefully these suggestions can make your next meeting more productive for your child and less stressful for you:
* Avoid bringing siblings or other children to the conference. In general, it's not a good idea to include the student herself. This time is for caring adults to discuss the academic progress of this child only. The distraction of other children running around the room detracts from this mission.
* Start with something positive, perhaps an area in which your child is excelling, or something complimentary about the teacher, such as, "His writing is showing improvement this year." Find something nice to set the tone. And end with something positive as well. A simple, "We appreciate your help with our child," will suffice. The tough issues belong in the middle of the meeting.
* Carefully phrase problems as "concerns." For example, "She has no idea what you're teaching in math!" is more antagonistic in tone than, "I'm concerned about her math progress and want to help in any way that I can. …