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How to get the most out of your parent-teacher conference

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Paul Banas   Print
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As your child gets older, interaction with teachers is less common, sometimes only during a very brief 10-minute meeting two or three times a year. Parents are often startled to find this process is more like an assembly line that can devolve into an exchange of "Everything's fine. Keep up the good work," which might tell you absolutely nothing. To get more out of these rare meetings, a little preparation can be very helpful. Here are some things to do before and during the meeting:

  1. Talk to your child about what issues he or she thinks need to be discussed.  
  2. Write down questions, as you would on a trip to the doctor, so you don't miss anything.
  3. Focus your conversation on your child and avoid the temptation to talk about education policy or your own experiences in school. Time is brief. Make it count.
  4. Inform the teacher about any problems or challenges at home. You want the teacher to understand that there are other stresses for your child, so the teacher doesn't assume bad grades are a result of other academic issues.
  5. Ask the teacher what you can be doing at home. Agree on and, ideally, write down action steps you will both take to address any issues.
  6. Ask for the teacher's email and give him or her your own. Don't expect the teacher to be your new best friend, but make sure he or she knows you want to be involved.
If things are not going well at school, some parents will react defensively and try to argue for the success of their child. While there are bad teachers, in most cases, you'll help your child more by treating the teacher as a partner and mapping out what you can do together to better results at school. 
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