This week is conference week at M1 and M2’s school. This brings back a lot of memories from when I taught first grade. As I sit across from my boys’ teachers now, I never forget what it felt like to be on the other side of that table as a teacher.
Some conferences turned into therapy sessions and I always kept a box of kleenex close to my chair. Once, I conducted a conference with parents going through a nasty divorce. They didn’t look at each other during the meeting and the tension was so thick I could see it. Sometimes I sat across the table from parents who clearly disliked me and how I was teaching their child. These parents had a private arena to tell me just how awful I was at my job. I had one parent tell me I better remember who paid for my salary. They tried to laugh this off like they were making a joke. I didn’t think it was very funny; it felt more like a threat.
All these memories come flooding into my brain as we (the LOML and I go together) sit at my sons’ conferences. The LOML and I have over two decades of working in education between us, so we both know what it’s like to be the teacher in a conference situation. We know what the teacher is really saying when they try to sugar coat something. As we say in the Calandro Clan, we speak fluent Teacher. We’ve been there; done that. Here’s a few things we’ve learned through the years and a few tips for a productive conference with your child’s teacher.
- Be on time and prepared for the conference. Listen carefully. Take notes if you need to. Pay attention to what the teacher is saying and what they aren’t saying. Go in with specific questions and examples if you need them.
- Ask for the truth if you think you are hearing Teacher Speak. Teachers need to choose their words carefully, but if you aren’t getting a clear picture of what’s going on, get clarification, even if it hurts. Your child’s education and progress is worth a bit of discomfort.
- If you aren’t happy with the conference or feel you want more time, don’t try to take it during the conference. Causing your conference time to go longer than scheduled throws eveyone else off. If you are the last conference of the day don’t abuse this time to take forty-five minutes when everyone else got thirty. Politely ask to schedule another time to talk.
- Remember teachers are humans first, teachers second. No one is perfect. Everyone has an off day. Perhaps the conference before yours was a minefield and the teacher had zero time to recover from it. Yes, they are a professional, but circumstances can get difficult quickly during a conference. When in doubt, give the teacher the benefit of the doubt. If you really feel the conference didn’t give you what you needed, politely ask for another.
- Ask what you can be doing at home and how you can work with the teacher as a team. Yes, it is the teacher’s responsibility to teach your child at school, but your home environment effects how your child feels about school and education. Make it a priority and be sure your child knows education matters.
- Most importantly, say thank you to the teacher for their time. Yes, they are doing the job they are hired to do, but everyone likes to be acknowldged for a job well done. Saying thank you goes a long way.
- If you really want to blow your teacher’s mind, bring them dinner. Every year I bring dinner to each of my sons’ teachers so they don’t have to go home and cook for themselves. Conference week is one of the most grueling and exhausting weeks of the entire school year for all the reasons I mentioned earlier. Bringing dinner is an outstanding way to say thank you.
Most of the time, I enjoyed the opportunity to meet with the parents of my students when I was a teacher. I loved telling Moms and Dads how far their child progressed from the beginning of the year. One thing parents all have in common: we are all proud of our kids. A good teacher works to help each student find ways to be proud of themselves and work to the best of their abilities, and even beyond. Good luck with your parent-teacher conferences! I hope they go well.