Fall Parent Teacher Conferences

parent-teacher-conferenceBy Matthew Olinski — It’s only a month or so into school  and yet the school year waits for no one.  The honeymoon period of a fresh school year may or may not be over for your students yet, but everyone is getting comfortable in the new school year.

With that being said, although every school district is different; parent teacher conferences are right around the corner.   My school shifted them to be a little earlier this year than in previous years, and in 2 weeks I will be meeting many of the parents of my students to discuss their academic performance.  Some parents, I may have already met this year, some with older children I may have met a few years ago.  I won’t say that each parent looks forward to hearing some of the news about their children, but they are eager to see what you have to say about their child.

There are a few things I have learned over the course of my years as a teacher that may help some newer teachers out.  Many schools have an online grade book.  Some parents check it daily, some not so often.  Be prepared with the latest grade information when you meet with parents.  In my situation, the parents won’t see a report card before the conferences (which is the goal – to improve those grades if need be, before they become a permanent grade), but some parents have a report card in hand and are interested in finding out what may have lowered a grade their child earned.  I do not print off grade information. To me it seems like a waste of paper. I do have a projector that I project their grades for on the screen.  The conferences are held in my classroom, so it is a private conversation in the sanctity of the room.

Be prepared for an angry parent. They may not even be angry at you. They may not have realized that their student was doing so poorly. A good measure to prevent this is frequent contact on behalf of students whose grades are not looking so good.  I have a few horror stories, all except one of which have happened to other people, about really atrocious parent conferences. One of them (not mine) was with 2 teachers in the room, because the parent had made physical threats to the teacher prior, and still did it with another teacher as a witness.  Hopefully this is as rare as I think it is.

Depending on if the student is new to the school, new to the district, or is in a transition school, such as elementary to middle, or middle to high school, you may want to talk about non academic factors with the parent. I have mentioned that their children seem to be adjusting well to the high school schedule, for example.

I like to end every conference on a good note for the student.  Parents can be crushed if they continually hear from all of their child’s teachers how the student doesn’t do homework, doesn’t do well on tests, or talks too much.  I still inform them of these behaviors, but I also want them to understand that I care for their student by talking about a positive behavior or trait that their student has.

Depending on the situation, I invite the students to talk first and explain to their parents what may have caused their grades to be possibly lower.  They often do a decent job of letting their parents know if they have messed something up in class. One of my conference horror stories if about a student who outright refused to do her homework, and then lied about it at conferences, at which point the parent believed their own child over me.  It was an uncomfortable moment to say the least.

Lastly, and possibly most importantly, have a buddy.  I remember the days of conferences in the large gymnasium where you would see the time (5 minutes until the end of the conferences) and you would see a teacher or two with a line of people 5 deep.   Be prepared to rescue a fellow teacher if it is not 15 minutes past the scheduled conference time and they have been chatting with the same parent for the past 20 minutes.  Make sure they know to help you out as well. Remember, you have to be back at school bright and early the next day anyway, so wrap things up and get home to prepare for the students the next day.

Conferences should be a good exchange of information between you and the parents of your students.  Ideally, every one of them will go smoothly. You’ll engage the parents.  Sometimes they don’t go so well.  If you have prepared yourself in advance, there is a good chance that you will  enjoy the night getting to meet the parents in a more personal matter.

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