Parent-teacher conferences can be an emotional minefield. Many parents and their children sweat through the unknowns, tension, and past-baggage that can haunt the school hallways. This experience is contrasted by parents of “A” students who happily attend these meetings to hear how wonderful their children are.
I admit these days were my least favourite part of teaching. It felt like a talking, sitting in uncomfortable chairs, dodging bullets, smiling marathon. Through the hundreds of interviews I attended and my experience becoming a psychotherapist and parent, I am sharing five valuable lessons I learned about how to use parent-teacher conferences to everyone’s advantage.
1. Take a peace-offering.
Teachers are often sitting for a long time without breaks. Bring a drink or something small for them to nibble on. This gesture also sets a good tone for the interview; most teachers will be grateful and not interpret this action as a bribe.
2. Remember that you and your child’s teacher are on the same team.
Constantly remind yourself of the word “empathy.” While talking with the teacher, stay focused on what can be done to improve your child’s love of learning and how to help each other enrich this. Try to steer away from opinions and stick with the facts. If the teacher uses this time to let you know about curriculum strategies or how hard they are working, move the focus on your child and what you two can do to improve their school experience.
3. Stay calm because children and teachers can say the darndest things.
Unfortunately, I’ve heard comments like, “If your daughter doesn’t take Ritalin I’m going to retire.” Also, “Your child is a waste of my time.” Before reacting to these comments, take a moment to collect your thoughts. That moment will facilitate the shift between launching a defense for your child to providing a reasonable response. Take a breath then paraphrase back, “So I hear you saying my child’s behaviour bothers you. Can we take some time to figure out what to do to help both of you?” Of course, if a teacher’s comments are too unkind and they are unwilling to work with you to make changes, a discussion with the principal is necessary.
4. Offer attachment tokens about your child to their teacher.
Depending on the age-range your child’s teacher instructs, know that some teachers can interact with as many as 150 students in one day. When teaching high-school, I had four classes everyday with an average of 30 students, plus lunch duty on some days and coaching on others. It might be hard for your child’s teacher to form a secure attachment with your child. One way to facilitate this attachment is to keep your child’s teachers informed of activities and interests outside of school. If your child passes a piano or dance exam, or throws a winning touchdown, let their teachers know.
5. Discuss situations that might compromise or trigger your child.
Provide information about what can cause your child to struggle. Here are examples of questions you can address with the teacher: Does a particular classmate press all their buttons? Has a pet died? Is their Grandma ill? Are there sleep problems? Do certain events cause meltdowns (transitions without warning?)
It is well known that children will do better in school and have higher grades if they feel attached to their teachers. Continually have small interactions with their teachers to stay on top of any conflict and use the parent-teacher conferences to learn what both parties can do to help each other increase the child’s love of learning.