How to Ace the Parent-Teacher Conference
What I was not prepared for was the teacher's opening line: "He is the impetus for all of the problems around him."
She did not appreciate his silliness nor his desire to help (albeit, untimely) those around him during work time. Ten seconds. Eleven words. Ten gallons of tears.
Luckily, I have become a more seasoned parent-teacher participant. Armed with more conference experience, anecdotal accounts from teachers, parents, and teacher educators, and published research on parent-teacher conferences, I can now offer some fresh perspective on the parent-teacher conference.
(Factoid: Parent-teacher conferences began in the 1930s.)
Which Type of Conference Parent Are You?The Protector. Patty Protector is the person who goes into the conference and wants to protect her child. She is doting and provides justifications for her child's behaviors. Good behaviors are welcomed and other behaviors are met with the "not my child" sentiment.
The Defender. Danny Defender is a contributor to the recent generation of college students (those who are criticized for having a strong sense of entitlement and are called the "millenials"). These parents will defend their children. It is never the child's fault or the parent's fault. In fact, it is often the teacher's fault or the school's fault if anything goes wrong. And if that doesn't work, then, well, it is society's fault.
The Catastrophizer. Cathy Catastrophizer sheds 10 gallons of tears in the parent-teacher conference. She hears what the teacher says (the constructive criticism, that is) and thinks the worst. Of course, teacher delivery of the criticism can matter here (and dare I say, can provoke Cathy.)
The Statue. Sammy Statue goes into the conference and sits. He attends and hears the teacher, but does not listen. He takes the report card and indifferently leaves the conference without much ado.
The Sponge. Sally Sponge demonstrates great objectivity in her ability to listen intently, absorb what the teacher shares, ask appropriate questions, and then leave with a plan of action which appropriately includes attention to both her child's areas of strength and weakness.
Regardless of whether you are a Patty, Danny, Cathy, Sammy, or Sally, parent-teacher conferences are important for a host of reasons. Some benefits:
Why the Parent-Teacher Conference?
- An opportunity for you and your child's teacher to share information that can promote your child's success in both academic and social areas
- Clarification of grades and curriculum (this can help Patty Protector and Danny Defender)
- Face-to-face time to get to know one another (after all, teachers spend nearly 40 hours per week with their students). Perhaps this can encourage Sammy Statue to warm up and get involved
Many parents can be convinced that conferences are a good idea. Yes, they may induce some anxiety in parents and even teachers, but it is hard to argue that parents and teachers should not communicate. Now that conference season is in full swing, what should you do to maximize the experience?
What Should You Do at Conference Time?
- Open up a two-way line for communication. Conferences should also be a time for parents to discuss things with the teachers, not only for teachers to feed information to parents
- Bring specific questions to the conference (e.g., How do you grade homework assignments?)
- Take note of the classroom space and look at your child's desk
- Talk to your child about the conference so that he or she knows that there is communication between you and the teacher
- Stay objective! Join me and set Cathy Catastrophizer free. Be a Sally Sponge. Be objective. Listen to the teacher's comments and avoid attacks!
Michelle Stroffolino Schmidt is Chairperson of the Department of Psychology at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on social and emotional development in childhood and adolescence. She has published research on parent-child attachment, friendship, peer relations, bullying, and mentoring. She has also done consulting work with schools as part of their bullying prevention and intervention programs. Michelle recently published the book Friendships in Childhood and Adolescence (Guilford Press), which explores the significance of friendship from toddlerhood through adolescence. The book examines factors that contribute to positive friendships, how positive friendships influence children’s lives, and interventions for those who have friendship difficulties. Michelle is the mother of a 7-year-old son, William, and a 2-year-old bulldog named Eve. She enjoys yoga, kayaking, writing, and cooking.
Which type of conference parent are you?
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