Here we are again, fall, the time of year when the leaves start to change color, there’s a nip in the air, and parent-teacher conferences loom before us. Fall parent-teacher conferences are very important. As parents, we have the opportunity to get a baseline for the year as to where our children are academically, socially and behavior-wise. It’s also the perfect chance to get to know the teacher who will be so integral in your child’s life for the next seven months or so. Today, I am happy to have Leon Scott Baxter, the author of the newly released parenting book, Secrets of Safety-Net Parenting, share with some Parent-Teacher Conference tips. He’s been an elementary school teacher for eighteen years so I consider him an expert on the matter!
Parent-Teacher Conference Tips From A Teacher
For many of us, the hard part seems to be scheduling that darn conference. Time slots fill fast. We may have to ask our boss for time off from work to attend. So, often we take the conference time that best fits the convenience of our schedules.
I’m here to tell you that not all conference times are created equal. Yes, some slots are ideal, while others you’ll want to avoid like a school cafeteria mystery lunch.
I am a father of two and have been a public elementary school teacher for eighteen years. I have learned that there are conferences when I am strong, fresh, lively and focused. Then there are those conferences where my energy is drained, my head is less clear, and my tongue is tied in knots. And, this happens during the same times each season.
Wondering if it were just me, I informally surveyed my wife (a third grade teacher) as well as my colleagues and discovered I’m not alone. We teachers have “good times” and “less than good times” for conferencing with parents. So, if you have the choice, use the following study guide to ace the “conference-slot-decision” quiz.
Best and Worst Parent-Teacher Conference Time Slots:
Your Best Options
- Day One/ 3rd or 4th Conference
A teacher’s first day of conferences is a teacher’s freshest day. The conferences are still new and exciting. The cobwebs have been shaken off and the kinks have all been worked out the first couple of conferences. Going third or even fourth, you’ve got a fresh teacher who is now into her rhythm.
(Conference Fun Fact: Conference season is one of teachers’ most stressful time of year. Preparing report cards is a lot of work and very time consuming. And, believe it or not, some of us are just as anxious to meet with you as you may be to meet with us.)
- Day Two/1st or 3rd Conference
With the first day of conferences behind him, a teacher often makes adjustments on Day Two to ensure an even smoother ride for himself and parents alike. Schedule a meeting early on that second day while he’s still fresh and lucid.
(Conference Fun Fact: Often teachers will go three to five hours speaking with parents about behavior and academics without a break. This can last for up to five days straight. So, be sure to get them at their best.)
Conference Times to Avoid
- Day One/ 1st Conference
I always call this “the Guinea Pig Conference.” If you choose this meeting time you become the parent that everything is being tested on. Inevitably I am also not as prepared for my first conference as I think I am. I may forget to pass out this form or neglect to ask for a signature on that paper. At almost every Guinea Pig Conference I have to get up to retrieve my laptop or grade book, because I’ve left it on my desk on in my school bag, which ends up disrupting the flow of the conference.
(Conference Fun Fact: Teachers often have no time to eat during conferences.)
- Any Day / Late Conference
No matter which day it is, by the end of a day speaking with six to ten families, teachers tend to get tired. We still care about your child as much as we did at the beginning of the day, but we’re not as fresh after four hours of conferences. The meetings start to blend into one another and sometimes we will repeat ourselves, or even worse ask questions like, “Did I already go over this with you?”
(Conference Fun Fact: On top of conferences, in many schools teachers have already taught lessons in the morning. They need to plan for the following day as well as correct assignments all before, between and after conferences.)
- Last Two Days/ Any Time
By the end of conference week, teachers are wiped! Even the first conference of Day Five may not be the best choice. After twenty meetings where we speak about behavior, reading fluency, homework and paragraphs, things start to get confused with one another. We’ll still give you our best, but our best may not be as good as it was a couple days earlier
(Conference Fun Fact: Some teachers go without potty breaks for many hours. You don’t want to be on the tail end of that run!)
Other Parent Teacher Conference Tips
“Should I come early to the conference?”
It’s a good idea to get to your conference 10 to 15 minutes early in case the conference before yours was a no-show or ran short. That way you can be done with yours earlier or maybe have a little longer time with the teacher. But, don’t count on getting in early if the prior conference is still in session or if the teacher had planned this time for correcting, planning or even eating.
“What if I come late?”
Get a tardy slip… Do your best to avoid being late. You don’t want the teacher to rush your conference so she can stay on schedule for other parents. But, there are times when tardiness can’t be avoided. Just apologize and go with the flow.
“What if the teacher is running late?”
This can occur if other parents are running late or a conference runs unexpectedly long. Please realize we teachers don’t purposely try to inconvenience parents, but it does happen. So, plan for an extra 15 to 20 minutes, just to be on the safe side.
“Can I ask for a conference time that’s not offered?”
I would not suggest asking for an obscure conference time (before school or on a different week) if possible, because you’ll probably get a more complete and thorough meeting when your child’s teacher is in “conference mode.” Before school tends to be rushed because teachers often must use that time to prepare for the day’s lessons, and the students will be arriving no matter if the conference is done or not. Although asking for a conference after conference week, most teachers will be accommodating, you will be back to that “Guinea Pig Conference” syndrome once again.
From a teacher’s point of view, phone conferences are convenient and an easy way to communicate with a parent, but if you can come into the classroom, you might be better off. Face-to-face contact with your child’s teacher builds a connection between two important adults in his life. Also, when you meet face-to-face, you get to see your child’s learning environment. Additionally, you can discuss sample work your child’s teachers has saved to share with you. But, if scheduling issues just make a face-to-face impossible, the next best choice is the “phoney”.
When choosing your child’s parent-teacher conference time, there are ideal slots as well as less-than-ideal ones. No matter what you get, be prepared. Have questions written beforehand. Learn what you can do at home to support the classroom learning. Remember that your child’s teacher wants the best for your little one. Tired, underfed, or bathroom-deprived, we teachers are human. However, we want what you want for your child- for them to be a happy, successful kid.
I hope you found these Parent-Teacher Conference tips helpful. Do have other questions about Parent-Teacher Conferences that you would like answered?
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Susan Williams says
I worked as a teacher, and as a school counselor, and don’t know that my experience was exactly as your tips describe.
I do think that the tip to write down your questions (or concerns) in advance was a very good tip.
My tip to add to that one would be prepared not only with the concerns you have, but ready to listen.
Maybe an open-ended question like: “Tell me an incident that describes where you see my child’s strengths in operation” might be good.
Or, “Tell me about an incident that occurred with my child that illustrates your greatest concerns about my child”, might be in order.
Working as a team, collaborating, parents and teachers can do much to help their children and students maximize their potential.
Thanks adding your tips into the mix! Great points.