Questions to Ask at Parent Teacher Conferences

Parents talking with a teacher in a classroom

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Parents are often scheduled for as little as 10 to 20 minutes with their child’s teacher during parent-teacher conferences. In this short amount of time you need to introduce yourselves, establish rapport, and then have a meaningful conversation about your child’s abilities, habits, current progress, and ways you can work with the school for your child’s success.

Most teachers plan for parent-teacher conferences by creating a generic checklist of topics to cover for each child. Teachers know parents may have questions, and plan to give parents a chance to talk as well.

If you come to parent-teacher conferences with an idea of what exactly you want to know you will be ready to ask about anything your child’s teacher doesn’t cover. You'll also be prepared to ask in a conversational style when the opportunity arises. You can prepare by thinking about what you would like to know. 

Questions to Ask Teachers at Conferences

Here is a list of several example questions to ask at a parent-teacher conference. Pick the questions that fit your family's needs.

School Curriculum and Learning

What will my child be learning about this school year? 

This is a broad question that will let you know what material will be covered during the school year. 

Are there any new or big changes happening this school year and what can I do to help support my child through this change?

Today’s schools are undergoing major reforms and ongoing changes. The shift to Common Core State Standards or other rigorous standards is still being implemented at the classroom level. You will want to know if this is a school year your child will be seeing a major shift from rote response learning to a more critical thinking style.

A school year with a large shift in learning expectations can cause some initial frustration. Keep in mind that often kids adapt to the new expectations within a few months.

Other possible changes may include greater use of technology in the classroom or at home, or increased student responsibility (often the grade levels in preparation before transitioning to middle or high school). There may also be changes that are specific to your child’s local schools. Find out about these changes and what your child’s teacher would like you to do to help your child adjust to the change.

Your Child’s Classroom and School Management

What are your expectations for homework? 

Be sure that you understand how much time your child should be spending on homework each week, when it is due, and what to do when your child runs into difficulty. Ask what the expectations are for parents in making sure their child's work is complete.

What is the best way I can contact you?

If you haven't had the opportunity already, the parent-teacher conference is an ideal time to begin developing a relationship with your child's teacher. Teachers are often extremely busy. Finding their preferred method to communicate will help you to make sure messages are received and read promptly.

How is this school using my child's standardized test scores?

Most standardized tests are given in the last half of the school year. They are often meant to measure how well students have learned the skills that are being taught at their grade level. Schools often receive the scores after the school year is over. 

What schools actually do with this information can vary between different states and even different school districts. Standardized tests can be quite controversial in some areas. Often the controversy relates to how the scores are being used for teacher performance reviews or school funding.

The most helpful piece of information for you is if the scores are used to help your child the following school year. For example, do test scores affect how much time teachers spend reviewing topics covered last year or your child's classroom placement?

If you have strong feelings about the use of standardized tests, parent-teacher conferences are probably not the best place for your voice to be heard on this issue. Your child's teacher is not the person who can change how the school district uses the data. Instead, express your concerns to the school board or state education department.

What should parents know about preparing for these tests?

This question will let you know the ways that the school prepares your child, and what you can do at home to support learning. Teachers have a variety of techniques for preparing students for tests to help ensure the tests accurately measure the grade-level skills kids have mastered.

The answer will probably include learning grade-level material throughout the year and a brief period of practice or simulation of the exam.

Uncovering How Your Child Is at School

What does my child seem to enjoy? 

This question can give clues to when your child feels confident or may lead to surprises for you about a new interest your child is developing. This is a good question to ask early in the conversation because of the positive focus.

What do you see as my child's strengths? This is another positive question that can keep the focus on what is working and what can be used to build from if your child is struggling. If your child has many strengths and is not struggling in school it can be helpful to know what your child's teacher specifically sees as a strength in their classroom.

Do you see any weaknesses?

This is another broad, open question that may help you find out about any areas where your child is struggling.

Do you have my child’s standardized test scores from last year?

Standardized test scores are one clue about how well your child is prepared for this school year. Some teachers may even be provided a breakdown of student test scores by specific skills. You can discuss these scores with your child’s teacher to see if there are any gaps that should be addressed to your child can move forward smoothly.

Is my child working at grade level? If not, what kind of help is there?

This question will help you to find out if your child is falling behind, and what you can do about it. The earlier problems are addressed, the faster your child can be caught up. Falling behind in school can lead to children feeling unsuccessful and unmotivated.

Who are my child's friends? How is my child doing socially?

Social development is an important part of growing up. Checking in to see how your child is doing socially in school can tell you about things like their ability to work with others or how safe and comfortable they feel at school.

Is my child completing their work and turning it in on time?

A teacher needs to send out the work and get it back in time in order for it to be graded. While some children have an easy time getting their work in, other children struggle.

Education researcher John Taylor identified 13 different steps that must be completed in order for homework to be turned in. If your child isn't getting their work done, finding out which step(s) are challenging can help your child be successful in school.

How is my child's participation in class?

This question can tell you how engaged your child is in school. This question can also let you know if your child is struggling to pay attention or is having some other difficulty with learning in the classroom.

Your Role as a Parent

How can I be involved?

Parental Involvement has been shown time and again through multiple studies to increase children's academic success. Opportunities for involvement are so varied, that each parent can find some way to be involved that will help all of the children in a school to succeed. 

Are there any major assignments I should be aware of?

This question will help you plan ahead for any large assignments that your child may have at school. For example, a large in-school assignment being done over a couple of weeks is something that you can ask your child about the progress of when your child comes home from school. You may also want to plan ahead for take-home projects that need supplies or will require parental help for completion.

Ask about any concerns brought up to you by your child.

If your child has told you about anything that is bothering them, the face to face time during parent-teacher conferences may be a good time to find out more about what is going on. 

If you are upset about something happening with your child at school, you will probably be better off to find a different time to discuss them with your child's teacher. See if you can schedule a time to discuss the issue if you can't address during conferences.

How can parents check on grades and schoolwork completion?

Many schools now have online student information systems where parents can monitor their children's grades and schoolwork completion as teachers enter grades into the system. This real-time monitoring gives parents the opportunity to act fast when work is late or missing, or even if grades begin to drop. Other schools may send home weekly grade printouts with the children. Be sure you know where and when to look at your child's grades.

Is there anything you would like to ask me?

Your child’s teachers are experts in teaching, but you are the expert on your child. The question gives your child’s teacher an opportunity to ask the expert.

Parents of Special Needs Learners

Have you had a chance to read my child's IEP/504 plan?

This question will ensure that your child's teacher is aware that your child has an IEP or 504. If it is early in the school year, your child's teacher may still be reviewing the details of the various student plans they have been provided. Sometimes teachers simply haven't been provided these documents when they should have. 

In what ways are you providing the accommodations listed in my child's plan?

This answer will give you key insights into your child's school experience while making sure that the accommodations are actually being met. This can also be a good conversation starter to improve the ways that accommodations are being met.

Do you have any questions about my child's IEP/504 plan?

You are the expert on your child. This question will give your child's teacher the chance to clarify anything that is in the plan. The teacher may want some clarifications or suggestions on how accommodation was met in the past. In some cases, children will outgrow a particular accommodation. This could be a chance to find a better way to meet your child's needs.

Be sure to take a pen and paper with you to take notes over important answers. If you come up with any new plans, make sure to follow through for your child's success.

By Lisa Linnell-Olsen
Lisa Linnell-Olsen has worked as a support staff educator, and is well-versed in issues of education policy and parenting issues.