Parenting Article: Getting the Most Out of the Parent Teacher Conference

Posted on October 25, 2010

Getting the Most Out of the Teacher Parent Conference
by Sarah Reaves White

The parent-teacher conference is coming up, and its importance cannot be denied. Whatever you do, don't miss it. Coming to the conferences on a regular basis tells the teacher that you are interested in your child and you want to know how to help. There really is no good reason for skipping the conference. If you cannot make it due to extenuating circumstances, call for another time that is convenient for you both.

You will now see how a trained, interested person views your child when that child is on his own, out of your sight and in the world that he will need to deal with in the future. You are not here to see whether the teacher "likes" or "dislikes" your child. Experienced teachers often declare that kids are really good as long as they are away from their parents. Why could this be true? The answer is easy. Your child has a close, personal and lifelong relationship with you. He or she may use all sorts of emotional tricks to get a particular outcome. The child may wheedle, whine, compliment or act exceedingly compliant just to manipulate the all-powerful parent. In the child's world, the school, the playing field is completely different. This is exactly what you want to find out, because you want to act not as a defender, but as a coach. As you know, the world is largely indifferent to individuals and making one's way in it will be easier with a coach.

What you want to get out of the parent/teacher conference is the answers to three crucial questions. Of course the first question to ask is "what is my child's attitude toward reading and math?" Reading is a fundamental skill that affects all areas of learning and assessing the child's progress is very important. Equally important is how the child relates to mathematics. If the child is having trouble with math, ask the teacher: "How can I help my child be at ease with mathematics?" Never say to your child, "I was never any good at math!" This gives the child permission to give up, thinking: "If the most powerful person in my world cannot do math, then I cannot be expected to do it either." A better answer is "Math is dependable; once you learn it, it will never change. The names of streets, airports and even countries will change, but eight times nine will always be seventy-two." A positive attitude and a plan of attack will focus the student on mastering math and succeeding. Many students who "dislike" math may be uncomfortable in using a different function of their brains. They need to do more math in order to become comfortable with it. Ask the teacher for some tips on how to help.

The second question that needs to be asked is, "How does my child relate to other students in the class?" Everyone wants to be the parent of a leader, but it should be recognized that the role of "valuable partner" is equally desirable. The person we really want on our project is the person who can get the job organized and then accomplished. This is an often overlooked goal, but the qualities such a person has will lead to success in many areas of life. Again, ask for suggestions that will help.

The third most important question to ask is "How does my child relate to authority figures such as teachers, the principal, the librarian and others?" This question will give you countless clues about how your child perceives the world. Does this child see the world as a hostile or a friendly and logical place? Your child will need powerful friends to succeed in this world, and the ability of your child to secure the friendship of adults will definitely carry over into a career later on. The child who sees adults as hostile figures is seeing reality through the wrong end of the telescope, and chances for success will be greatly diminished.

The very best situation for your child in the elementary years is a triangle of interaction between child, teacher and parent. Developing that situation for your child will pay off in success and positive development in the years to come.

**In 2010, Sarah Reaves White was the George Bannerman Dealey Montessori School/International Academy's Teacher of the Year. She has been teaching elementary students for 29 years.