What to Expect
During conference time, parents can expect to get a glimpse of their child’s work and find out how he or she is progressing. Teachers generally maintain a portfolio for each student with documentation divided into sections such as reading, language arts, math, social studies and science, and behavior, Graham explains.
As they progress through each subject, Graham notes if the child is doing well in a particular subject and addresses areas of concern. If there is a problem, she makes a recommendation and asks for the parent’s input.
This has been Nancy Thomas’s experience. “When my kids were younger—the early elementary years—the teacher would show me samples of my child’s work and give me her feedback.” This, she says, gave her a better understanding of how her child was doing. “It’s important to hear from the teacher’s perspective. You may be thinking things are fine, but the teacher may have a concern.”
Harvey found this to be true as well. She thought her daughter Jayden was doing just fine until conference time. During the meeting, the teacher mentioned five test papers that were supposed to be signed by the parent but had not been returned.
When Harvey got home, she asked her daughter about the papers and found it was a big misunderstanding. “Jayden looked totally shocked,” Harvey recalls. “She said, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize they had to be signed and returned!’ Then she ran and got her backpack and there they all were, stuffed in the bottom of her bag.” Harvey notes if she hadn’t attended the conference, the situation may have gotten worse.
It is natural for parents to come to the conference table with expectations, but they should realize teachers have some too. “My biggest expectation is that the parent wants to be there,” says Graham. “I want them to listen, but I also want them to share. They know their child best.”
One thing parents can do is tell the teacher a little about their child’s likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses. It may even help to let the teacher know if there are any stressful conditions in the child’s life—a move to new neighborhood, death of a loved one, divorce, etc.
If an academic or behavioral issue is addressed during the conference, most teachers make a recommendation and ask for the parent’s input. “When my daughter started first grade, she had a big academic struggle ahead of her,” Thomas explains. “Jessica had attended kindergarten at another school that didn’t stress phonics, and that put her really behind the other kids who were now in her class.” During the conference, Thomas and the teacher talked about ways to get Jessica caught up. “The teacher was very reassuring. We came up with a plan, and in time, she was doing fine.”