School is in full swing, the pencils are sharpened and the books are covered. You've paid for school supplies, picture day, yearbook, and T-shirts. Your taxi meter is full throttle for the after school runs: art club, baseball games, scout meetings, and piano lessons. You've been to Open House Night and have an overview of the curriculum, homework assignments, behavioral expectations, and the dress code.
Now it's time to get serious: The Parent Teacher Conference. One common element among successful students is involved parents. Children whose parents are conscientious about education tend to do better academically and develop positive social skills. They have fewer behavioral problems, are less apt to cut class, and are most likely to graduate from high school.
It is important your child understands the home-school connection between parents and teachers. This should be viewed by all involved as a time to share information, not a tattletale session. This is an opportunity to help the teacher to get to know your youngster better and lay the groundwork for a mutually cooperative relationship.
The parent teacher conference is not just a one-time event, but sets the pace for an on going relationship between parents and teachers for the entire school year. Consider the parent teacher conference as a team meeting. The goal is to plan effective strategies so your child will have a winning season.
A successful parent teacher conference should include the following:
- Be Positive: focus on your child's strengths, talents, and successes. Let the teacher know you love, cherish, and respect your child. You hold your child in high regard and expect others to do the same. Remember, you are entrusting your most precious possession to this teacher. This person may well spend more hours each day with your child than you do.
- Keep in Perspective: children are not being immature, they are acting their age! Child development is a work-in-progress and behavior should be viewed as one point on an ever-changing continuum. When there is a problem, understand that children often do "grow out of it." One of our jobs is to coach and support them, with compassion and consistency, as they encounter life's ups-and-downs. It is critical that parents and teachers mutually support consequences of misdeeds, but not allow negativity to cast a shadow over the entire school year. It is important to separate the "doer" from the "deed" to avoid setting low expectations and a negative reputation for your youngster.
- Focus on Reality; neither exaggerate nor diminish your child's academic progress, social skills, or behavioral reactions. Readily identify your youngster's strengths and shortcomings. You know your child better than the teacher does, but the teacher is well educated in child growth and development. She has worked with hundreds of children. Remember too, you are emotionally invested in your child, but the teacher is able to be more objective. Respect the teacher as a professional child expert and consider her suggestions carefully.
- Ask Questions: be specific about your youngster's exact grade level performance compared to the grade he is in. You can benefit from the teacher's evaluations and observations of your child during school time. What areas does he need extra help with? What is his reading grade level? Is there a vocabulary list you can study at home? Is there a list of recommended reading books? Find out whom your child sits next to during free time and whom he enjoys playing with. Does he have a special friend? How does your child respond to criticism from peers or the teacher? Is he helpful, does he take the initiative in learning situations, and use problem solving strategies? Are there special events coming – picture day, field trips, career day?
- Thank the Teacher; voice your appreciation for the teacher's time and interest in working with you to help your child succeed in school. Point out something specific the teacher has done that you especially like such as birthday recognition, display of children's work, or notes home to parents. Mention a school related antidote your child has told you which reflects positively on the teacher or the school. Offer to volunteer in the classroom or with projects, which can be done at home.
Each successful school year is a milestone for your child. Each grade level not only helps with academic progress, but with socialization skills. Ultimately, each success fortifies your youngster's feeling of self-worth and self-confidence. The parent teacher conference is one vehicle for monitoring and coaching your child through a positive educational experience.
Dr. Valerie Allen is a child psychologist in private practice. She presents seminars for parents and professionals in the field of child development and has published a children's book, "Summer School for Smarties." Oh yes, she has also raised six children!