The Parent-teacher Conference Among the most challenging and emotional encounters in life is the typical parent-teacher conference, overrun by hope, desire, worry, and defensiveness.
Let's face it: not everyone has the most positive feelings about school . . . and that's not just parents, it's teachers, too. We have to get past those feelings to keep a conference on track and useful.
As a teacher, I have experienced a wide variety of parental anti-school behaviors. Among them:
• Hard-to-please parents who march into the school office with a daily complaint. At the other extreme are the scared, "helpless" parents who somehow can't bring themselves even to visit the school.
• Parents who use the school in a way that destroys any good feelings children may have about schooling. Is it any wonder a child would balk at going to school after hearing, "Just you wait till you get to school--they'll know what to do with you!"
• Parents who hope, even expect, the school to do for their child what it never did for them, or who expect it to do all the things they can't do successfully in their home. They grow increasingly bitter against the school with each passing day. When the miracles do not occur, they tend to infect their children with this attitude: "That school's no good-what's the use of trying?"
Being confronted with such problems can be frustrating, but fortunately there are ways to help you have positive parent-teacher conferences.
• Every teacher carries battle scars, but you must resist bringing memories of previous disappointing conferences into this conference.
• Be ready to share your concerns, without trying to assign blame. Fault finding is tempting but counter-productive.
• Be aware of parents' "old" responses to describe their children's current situations. "I didn't do well in math, my child won't either." "My child refuses to study. I am ready to give up." Try to be encouraging without being flippant. Parents bring their entire school lives with them to your conference.
Some of the best advice I've heard about conferences is for teachers and parents to be "descriptive" and not "judgmental." The tendency is to say, "Jimmy or Sally doesn't pay attention." Instead we need to specifically describe the ways in which these children act and what can be done to help them. Only in this way will we be able to work together to change student behavior and attitudes.
--Dr. Dorothy Rich
©Dorothy Rich 2002
Based on the book MegaSkills®
To order a copy of MegaSkills®, visit the NEA Professional Library at http://home.nea.org/books/.