Conference Time: What to Ask the Teacher

Michele Borba, EdD, a former teacher and mom of three, has worked with hundreds of school divisions and PTA groups. She recently offered insight on our Community Boards about how to maximize your parent-teacher conference time. Here is her advice.

Make the Most of Your Meeting

Back to School Advice
Back to School Advice

You just received a memo from your child's school: your parent-teacher conference has been scheduled. So what do you ask? Keep in mind that your child's teacher has scheduled only a set amount of time to talk, so you will want to use every second wisely. Your goal is to find out not only how your child is doing in school, but also how you can help.

There are a few things you can do before the conference to make the most of your meeting with the teacher.

  • Take a few minutes before the conference date to jot down questions you want answers to. In fact, write your questions on note cards and take them with you. Chances are if you don't write them down, you'll forget to ask.
  • Review your child's latest schoolwork. Do you have any concerns or questions? If so, write those questions down too.
  • Ask your child if there might be anything he'd like you to ask his teacher. He (or you) may need clarification on the homework schedule or when his library book is due.
  • Also pose this question to your child: "Is there anything you think the teacher will tell me that I don't already know?" Better to not be surprised.
  • Finally, if you don't have a school handbook (available to all parents at the front office), do pick one up when you are at school. It lists all kinds of helpful advice: school rules, vacation schedules, dress code, and contact numbers.

Questions to Ask

Here are a few questions to ask that will help you assess how well your child is doing. Add your own queries and concerns to the list. Your goal is to try to get an accurate assessment of how your child is doing academically -- and also socially and emotionally.

  1. How is my child doing? Academically? Socially? Behaviorally?
  2. How is he doing compared to the other children?
  3. What is his strongest subject? What is his weakest subject?
  4. What can we be doing at home to help?
  5. Is there a homework schedule? How much homework should he be doing each night? What if the homework is too difficult? Is there a reading list of books he should be reading at home?
  6. What about tests? Book reports? Upcoming projects? When are library books due?
  7. How does he get along with others? Who does my child play with? Is there any child you think might be a good friend for him that he doesn't play with?
  8. How does my child behave around adults? Is he polite and respectful?
  9. What do you consider my child's best strengths and interests?
  10. If I need to reach you, what is the best way? (E-mail, phone, note.)
  11. What is your policy if my child is having any kind of problem? How do you let me know?
  12. Is there anything I can do to help you at school? (Field trips, grade papers, share a skill.)
  13. If the teacher mentions your child may need to be held back, breathe first. Then calmly ask the reasons for the teacher's decision. How does your child compare to the rest of the students academically? If he was held back, how would that specifically help your child? What would happen in the next class to ensure your child is more successful? What class would he be in? Is there anything you could do during the summer to help "catch him up" (summer school) or would he always be trying to "catch up"? Does the decision have to do with emotional or social readiness? The secret is to try to stay relaxed but gather as much information as possible. The decision won't be made at the moment: you have time to think about it. But the decision needs to be made on accurate data.

Then go home, share what you learned with your child, and commit to doing what you discussed. If appropriate, write a note to the teacher thanking her for her time and advice.

Michele Borba, a Parents advisory board member, received a Doctorate in Educational Psychology and Counseling from the University of San Francisco; an MA in Learning Disabilities and a BA from the University of Santa Clara; she earned a Life Teaching Credential from San Jose State University.

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