7 Questions to Ask at Your Parent/Teacher Conference

 

Parent/teacher conferences are akin to checkups: they give you a chance to gauge how your child is doing at school, academically and socially -- and if there are areas for improvement. Yet many parents walk away from this meeting thinking, Hmmm, that's it? Or, if the teacher does say their child is struggling, they feel defensive and also clueless about how to help. To help you make the most out of these parent-teacher meetings, we talked to school administrators and other experts about the questions they're dying to hear you ask, and why they're so key to helping your child thrive at school.

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Parent teacher conferences

  1. "How is my child doing socially?"
    Teachers are up to their ears with parents who are obsessed with grades, grades, grades. But academics aren't the end all be all of the wisdom that teachers try to impart at school. "The questions that are asked most often are centered on how they are doing academically since the modern world is overly focused on this," says Jennifer Kelman, a licensed social worker. "But I urge parents to ask more about how they interact with their peers, how well do they listen and respect their teacher. Do they understand how to get along in a community and work with others? These are the questions that are often left out and I believe it is a mistake not to ask them. Academics are one thing or one part of a much larger picture no matter the age of the child."
  2. "What do you think are my child's particular strengths … and weaknesses?"
    Raving about your child's strengths, of course, is easy. But picking at what's challenging to your child is a far more uncomfortable topic to broach -- which is why teachers appreciate when parents lay out the welcome mat and indicate they are open to hearing that their child is far from perfect. And if you do receive news that your child is subpar in some area, try your best to not offer any justifications. Just listen and ask questions. For instance, if the teacher says your child is easily distracted, follow up with, "Have you noticed it's in specific subjects or during a specific time?" The more you can zero in on why your child is struggling, the better you can address this issue and find a solution that can help.
  3. "What can I do at home to support what you’re doing in the classroom?"
    Of course you're going to ask what your teacher is doing to help your kid excel. But teachers love when parents acknowledge that their child's education doesn't rest entirely on the school's shoulders -- it's your responsibility too. Bring a notepad and take notes during your conference, which will show you're taking what she says seriously.
  4. "I've noticed it takes Billy a half hour to finish his homework. Does that meet your expectations?"
    Homework overload is a huge complaint for parents, who often put teachers on the defensive by saying, "I see you assign tons of homework. Is all that really necessary?" Instead, make it personal and specific by saying how long YOUR child takes to get it done. "Sometimes the teacher's estimate of how long it will take is way off the mark," says Stephanie Katleman, founder of the parenting site The M.O.M. Method. "Or in the event that a child has a learning challenge, the estimate may be grossly underestimated. If you discover that your kids are working far beyond the teacher's estimate, it's time for a conversation. The teacher needs to know so any potential underlying issues can be addressed and changes made." As a general rule of thumb, kids should expect 10 minutes of homework per night per grade level: so 10 minutes in first grade, 20 minutes in second grade, and so on.
  5. "Are copies of text books (or digital equivalents) available to families for at-home use?"
    If you're struggling to help your kids with their homework, this question can be a godsend. "From my experience, the way subjects -- especially math -- are taught today is considerably different than the way I learned them," says Katleman. A surefire way to drive your kids and yourself crazy is to explain an already challenging concept differently than the teacher initially presented it to your kiddo. Do yourselves the favor of getting the information directly from the source -- heck, you may even learn an easier way to do long division. Also ask if there are any additional resources, especially online, that you can use at home to supplement what they're teaching in class.

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  6. "Are there any question you'd like to ask me?"
    Teachers don't like to pry, and yet they wonder: Why is Jimmy suddenly nodding off in class? That's why it would be amazing if you encouraged her to probe so you could explain, "Oh! That must be that new medication he's been on; the doctor warned us it might make him sleepy. Maybe we should have his levels adjusted." Also be sure to volunteer any personal goings on that could be impacting your child, like a recent death, divorce, or other disruptions. This may help you and your teacher spot patterns and put the whole picture together when neither of you could have done so alone.
  7. "How and when do you best prefer to communicate with me?"
    Teachers are deluged with kids and parents clamoring for their attention, and nothing's worse than being "that" parent who tries to engage her in a lengthy discussion right when she's pulled in a million directions or scrambling to get stuff done. Show that you respect her time by making an effort to pinpoint the right windows when she's most available for questions, as well as her preferred mode of communication. Some teachers love email, others text, while still others prefer written notes or face to face. Find out and your interactions won't only be smooth during your parent/teacher conference, but well beyond that!

How did you make the most out of your parent/teacher conference?


Images © Peter M. Fisher/Corbis; © iStock.com/ElFlacodelNorte       

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