If you have a parent-teacher conference coming up, don’t panic. They don’t have to be scary. In fact, with the right preparation, they can be one of the best things you do for your child’s education this year. For most parents, this is the only one-on-one time you’ll have with your child’s teacher all year, so make the most of it.
What to do before your parent-teacher conference
Know your child’s grades. You don’t want any surprises regarding indisputable information like grades. Whether they’re good or bad grades, you’ll want the teacher to know you’re keeping track.
Ask your child if they have anything to share. Speaking of surprises, this would be a good time to let your kid clear the air about anything they may be hiding. Remind them it’s best to hear bad news from them rather than their teacher. And ask them if there’s anything they’ve had trouble sharing but want the teacher to know.
Prepare yourself for surprises. There’s no such thing as the perfect kid, or parent, or teacher. There will be issues at some point in every child’s development, some that may be news to you, and that’s okay.
Take turns with your spouse. If you have a co-parent, or multiple children, consider doing alternate years. That way you’ll share the responsibility and be equally informed. If both parents are attending together, remember to show a united front, but not to “gang up” on the teacher.
Come prepared with questions. This is the perfect time to ask everything you want to know about your child, from someone who will tell it to you straight. How are they doing socially? How are they performing compared to the other students in class?
Consider their strengths and weaknesses beforehand. Make a list of three things you know they’re good at, and three things you know they could work on. Ask the teacher if they agree, or have anything to add.
Schedule a time that works for you. Back-to-school time is notoriously stressful. If the teacher’s times are flexible, consider the best time of the day/week for your schedule. You don’t want to be in a rush or flustered when you arrive.
Outline the talking points. If the conference invitation is vague, reach out to the teacher ahead of time and ask them what the format will be, e.g. grades, behavior, Q+A, etc. That way you’ll both be prepared.
What to do during a parent-teacher conference
Get to the big stuff first. Whether you’ve got 15 minutes or an hour, it won’t be enough time. Make sure you ask the most important questions first.
Remember that teachers are human. They’re just doing their job, and it’s okay if you care more about your kid than they do. You should expect that actually. Just make sure it’s clear they respect your child.
Share an appropriate amount. They don’t need to know all the details of your home life. But if there are issues at home that you know are causing problems at school, it’s best to give the teacher a heads up. Just make sure you aren’t making excuses for their behavior.
Don’t get angry, and don’t argue. If you don’t agree with what they’re saying, ask for specific examples. It’s easy to become defensive when someone is talking about your child (who knows them better than you?), but remember their education is the real purpose of the meeting.
Share concerns. If there are issues you’ve noticed, like bullying or lack of confidence, tell the truth. They may be able to help.
Try to trust their judgment. They are professionals, and you should remember to treat them as such. Even if you don’t agree, respect their judgment.
Ask for advice on what to do next. So they gave you a lot of information — now what? Ask them if there’s anything you should be doing at home to improve their education.
Thank them for their time. Remember they’re probably doing these for 30-plus children after normal school hours. They’ll really appreciate your gratitude.
What to do after your parent-teacher conference
Take notes. While the information is still fresh in your mind, take as many notes as you can. This will help you keep track of their improvements.
Talk to your child. Let them know what you talked about, the good and the bad, and be as transparent as you think is appropriate.
Understand that there are limits to what can be done. You can’t fix everything for your child. And that’s okay. Pick your battles to follow up on, and consider the consequences.
Schedule follow-up meetings. If you and the teacher agree that it’s necessary, additional meetings throughout the year are a great way to track your child’s progress.