At the start of every school year, Jim and Darlene Harvey enter into an alliance that greatly affects their children’s academic success. Though this parent-teacher partnership begins the day their children walk through the school doors, the true cooperative effort occurs during conference time. “You can’t underestimate the benefits of having a working relationship with your child’s teacher,” says Harvey, a mother of three.
Andrea Graham, an elementary school teacher for 29 years, thinks parent-teacher conferences are an integral part of a child’s educational experience. “It’s a team effort—child, parent, and teacher. You need that team coming together for the child to be a success at school.”
Preparation is Key
Nearly all schools hold parent-teacher conferences in the fall, but frequency and duration vary from one academic setting to another. The school where Graham teaches schedules conferences twice a year, in the fall and spring. To stay on schedule and get the most out of conferences, Graham encourages parents to come on time and be prepared. “If they have specific questions or concerns, I want them to be able to bring them to the table,” she says.
Harvey knows to come prepared. “Before leaving for conferences, I jot down a few things that come to mind—either concerns I have or things I have seen while watching my kids do homework,” she says. One time it was a problem from the year before she didn’t want to see crop up again. “I’ve found that if I don’t make a list of what I want to discuss, I leave and on the way home think, ‘Oh, I meant to bring that up!’”
Harvey also talks with her children before leaving for the conference. “When the kids first started school, they seemed a little anxious whenever they found out I was going to the meetings,” she explains. “So now before I leave home, I just let them know if there is anything in particular I am going discuss with their teacher. This way, they can relax while I’m gone.”
While some teachers prefer the students to remain at home, Graham invites students to attend their conferences. “I think it’s important for them to hear what’s going on—the good things we say about them and what we need to work on. It’s important for them to see this is a joint effort and they have to do their part to make it happen,” she says.
From time to time, Graham will have a parent who doesn’t want her child sitting at the table during the conference. When this happens, Graham gets the student busy doing something else. “I always have paper, crayons, and books on hand. I bring snacks too.” This is also helpful if younger siblings tag along. “I always try to work with the parents. If they bring their baby and he is crying, we work around that. My goal is to get the parent there so we can talk.”