Today I had roughly sixty parent/teacher conferences. Some with both parents present, some with the child present. Most were fanTAStic. Some were awkward. One was horrifying. And I thought to myself, “Self, some of these parents need some loving (or at least funny) advice on how to have a productive, meaningful conference with their child’s teacher. Why don’t you take some time you don’t have to write some tips?”

Self pooled teacher friends for help, and came up with the following suggestions.

Smile! Care about your child’s teacher! Ask how they are!  I would love to feel like you want to know me as a person. And whether you decide to like me or not, I am the teacher, and I am in charge of educating and caring for your child for the rest of the year. If I feel like you don’t care about me or value what I do, it isn’t motivating to go the extra mile in providing special attention to your child. Education is a partnership!

Don’t make it awkward! It would be nice to not have to bear witness to husband and wife arguments….

Please don’t assume that your child is always right, or your teacher is always wrong…I like to make deals with parents that I will believe half of what your child says about you and your family, if you believe half of what your child says about me and my class.

Parents – you would not believe what your kids tell me about you. And a lot of it, even if it’s true, you want my grace in. “My mom said I had to go to bed at eight pm and not to do my homework.” “My parents don’t like You/Obama/Mexicans/gays/hippies/the homeless/homework/school.” “My parents make me do all the chores and my siblings do nothing so I can’t do homework.” “My parents don’t have enough money for this school, but my grandparents make them send me.” “My mom says I can’t be friends with so and so because their mom/dad/family is so and so.” ‘My dad sleeps on the couch a lot.”

don’t worry, I love you!
  • I filter a lot, believe very little of it, and I never tell anyone else unless I am concerned about a child’s well-being. I even tell the other students to ignore that info, and I help your child learn when to stop the over-sharing. They don’t know what they say. And I understand that. Sometimes I will email you home as an FYI about the family secrets they are spilling, but sometimes I just don’t want to embarrass you.
  • Please also understand that when they have been disciplined, by the time they get home to you, something I have said in class has been discussed with five other students, through a few periods of class, study hall, PE, carpool, and the swirling and twisting self-defense mechanism that every child has that wants to protect their best interests from you. Your child doesn’t want to get in trouble. And so your child will bend the truth or leave out details, and they never think it will come back to them. But when you email me immediately, we can solve the mystery together. Let that happen.
  • Let discipline take place. I care about order in my class, and I take necessary action. It is so much work to file discipline, trust that any action I take is essential to maintain order. I am not out to get anyone in trouble.

When there is a disciplinary action, DO promote followup. Ya need an action plan. What are you gonna do at home? What is the teacher gonna do at school? Brainstorm. Be honest about your expectations. Be honest about your needs. Do you NEED your child to get an A? Be prepared to do more. Is a B gonna work? Is a C? That determines how hard you and your child need to work. Is it about grades for you, or the process? If you want something special, offer to help out in class, or email reminders about checking in. Every day, I enter at least 100 assignments, 100 participation grades, attend 2 meetings, email 40 times, and mold the lives of a billion children. I often can’t remember to email you unless you email first. Do so.

Do be realistic about your child. Don’t blame other kids. Your child was involved, otherwise, you wouldn’t have been notified. If you can’t accept this, we call you a “walk on water mom,” i.e., your kids are peeeeerfect, and they would never have done blank if so-and-so hadn’t been leading them down the path of sin. Especially in junior high, they are all about testing the waters. Expect it. They are figuring out the adults they might grow up to be, and that involves testing authority. Even your perfect child. :)

Do contact in advance. Don’t save up all your questions and potential anger for conferences. You have a limited time with your teacher. Email ahead of time with a list of things you would like to talk about, and come prepared to talk specifically about those things. Teachers are planners, and we get caught off-guard enough each day by your children, please don’t do it to us at a high-strung event like conferences.

Do think carefully about your words. I remember them all year. I tell them to next year’s teachers as a head’s up about rough parents. I think of them every time I see you. And I rarely remember the good ones, but I always remember the bad. The impression you make on us is just as important as the one we make on you.

I know that it is easy to get worked up or overreact to things because it is your child. They are your world. I respect and love that about you and your family. But you only know that world. And I am watching 120+ of those worlds combine and collide each day. I might have some insight that could be unpleasant to hear, but truly valuable. I am only in this profession because I love it. If it were for the money or the schedule….well I wouldn’t.

I love your children (almost) unconditionally. I find them entertaining, and adorable, and wise, and sweet. I know them incredibly well, sometimes better than you might in certain situations. TRUST that I want what is best for them, and work WITH ME to obtain that for your child.

Whether they go willingly, or kicking and screaming, I want to be able to hold your hand through it all and we can smile together as we watch them succeed in life.

Everybody likes a happy ending. :)