Many schools have beginning of the year parent conferences. Be prepared with your questions to get the most out of this time with your child’s teacher. Debbie Shiabu, executive director of the Association of Private Schools; Anne Davis, education contributor for the parenting blog We Know Stuff; and Justin Baeder, director of The Principal Center, provide expert advice on effective questions to ask at your next parent-teacher conference.
First of all, you are there for your child. Teacher conferences are not the time to “interview” the teacher. Questions such as, “What is your philosophy of education?” are best left to the professionals who hired him. Don’t ask about other children in the class; your teacher will not be able to talk about other children, just as he won’t be able to talk about your child to other parents. Start the conference by asking questions specific to your child and giving the teacher information about your child.
How is my child doing socially and emotionally?
These subjects are often not addressed in progress reports, but are just as important as academic progress. Is she making friends? Does she get along with other children in social situations? Is her emotional maturity on track for her age? How does she handle setbacks? Does she manage the teacher’s feedback on her work?
In what areas does my child excel? Need improvement?
The teacher spends a considerable amount of time with your child. In that environment, she might see something in your child that you have missed. If there is room for improvement, ask for suggestions on what you can do to help at home. Your teacher has likely worked with hundreds of students and has seen what has helped in the past.
Is my child doing his best?
Your child may be making good scores on his assessments, but is he putting appropriate effort in his work? Does he take his time on class work or rush through and then spend time socializing with friends?
What can I do at home to support my child?
If your child is struggling with a specific concept or process at school, outside help such as tutoring may be needed to help her catch up with her peers. The teacher might recommend specific websites or learning resources that can supplement her learning. Most schools have a reading-at-home program. Ask how much time should be spent reading to your child versus your child reading out loud or to herself.
Can I tell you about what is going on at home?
Maybe your parents are moving in with you. Maybe you are going through a divorce. Perhaps a new baby is on the way soon. This is information that your child’s teacher needs to know in order to address his needs.
Is my child performing on grade level?
At a conference, expect to see examples of your child’s work. Instead of comparing him with other students in the class, ask how his work compares to the standards of his grade level. Have your child’s reading and math skills been tested? Where does your child stand in comparison to expected levels?
What do these assessment results really mean?
Standardized testing results may be confusing to interpret. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for an explanation.
May I share a concern?
If you have a specific concern about what is going on in the classroom or school, bring it up respectfully to the teacher. If you are concerned that the teaching methods are not working for your child, now is the time to get some clarification and give input.
Can you fill me in on a situation?
You may hear complaints from your child, but it is always helpful to get the teacher’s side of the story. You may be surprised at the difference between your child’s perception and the teacher’s point of view.
How can I help?
Teachers often depend on the generosity of parents in order to do their best for your child. Does she need help planning a holiday party or supplies for a special project? Does the library need volunteers? Support your school with your time, talent and treasure in order to make your child’s learning experience the best.
Collaboration between teachers and parents begins with a simple conversation. Start early with a fall conference. Keep it positive and focused on your child, and a mutually beneficial relationship will bloom. Your child will benefit greatly from your participation in her education.
Jennifer VanBuren is a Georgetown educator and mother of three.