How Parents Can Be Prepared for Parent-Teacher Conferences

teacher smiling and leaning over a desk

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When you were a child, you probably saw your parents head off for a parent-teacher conference at the school. Maybe you dreaded these meetings because of the scolding you thought you'd get afterward. Or perhaps you looked forward to the proud look on your parents' face after hearing the nice things your teacher would say.

Regardless of your past experiences, you have only a vague notion of what a parent-teacher conference was all about and what happens at such a meeting. Now that you're an adult and responsible for taking part in these events, let's define what you can expect during a parent-teacher conference.

What Is a Parent-Teacher Conference?

A parent-teacher conference is a meeting between a student's parents and teacher or teachers, to discuss the child's progress academically, socially and with regard to expected classroom behavior. Other topics, such as homework, emotional challenges, or issues with friends, may also come up.

Your child's teacher has to meet with every parent in one day. Some schools split the time up and offer afternoon conferences and evening ones.

 Time spent per child's guardians is usually limited to 10 to 15 minutes so be respectful of other people's time and keep the conversation to the point. 

What the Conference Covers and How to Prepare

The best parent-teacher conferences follow a set agenda. The teacher should have examples of your child's schoolwork, any relevant test scores, and observations of the child's class participation, academic work, and social growth to share with you.

As a parent, it's helpful to prepare some questions for the teacher conference about anything that confused you or raised a concern during the previous few months of school. Again, be aware of the time you spend with the teacher. If you can't get all of your questions answered, ask for a meeting or phone call at another time.

Frequency of Conferences

You most likely will have one or two regularly scheduled parent-teacher conferences each year, as a routine, to stay updated on your child's education. Check the school calendar so you can plan in advance for you and your significant other to attend.

There can be exceptions like if your child is struggling academically or is having other types of problems the teacher may suggest an additional conference. Don't dread this event. Instead, treat it as an opportunity to intervene in your child's school experience in a positive way.

Listen at least as much as you talk, and keep an open mind as you communicate with your kid's teacher. After all, the child you see at home rarely presents the exact same persona and behavior at school.

You can ask for a special parent-teacher conference if you have concerns about your child's progress. You might want to request a teacher conference if you aren't getting enough information about your child's education through notes, emails and returned class work from the teacher. It's certainly challenging to fit a conference into your workday, but the time spent now will prevent future disruptions if your child continues along a downward slide academically.

How Parent-Teacher Conferences Differ as Your Child Advances Grades

While parent-teacher conferences are routine in the preschool and elementary school years, they most likely will wane as your child gets older. In middle school and high school, your child is increasingly able to take responsibility for his or her own learning. You will get information about the curriculum and school procedures at events such as back to school night, curriculum night and meet the teachers night.

As your child ages, the feedback you get from teachers will largely reside on the progress reports and graded class and homework you receive. Many school systems have an online portal you can use to track your child's progress in academics, tests, and homework. Still, don't be shy about asking your child to share his or her academic progress with you — or even asking the teachers — so you can make sure everything is on track.

By Katherine Lewis
Katherine Reynolds Lewis is a journalist, author, speaker, and certified parent educator who writes about modern parenting and discipline.