As a result of my personal and professional choices, I have been privileged to get a seat at both sides of the table during parent-teacher conferences. As a teacher, I have been both empathetic to, and frustrated by, the parent sitting across me. And as a parent, I have been intimidated, frustrated and appreciative of the teacher sitting across me.
For both parties, the meeting can be either constructive or a complete waste of time. But the onus of the same does not depend on the teacher alone. As a parent, we have a role to play too.
The first step is to realise that you are both on the same page. Focus on the big picture. You both want what’s best for your child. You both want your child to be happy and healthy. Having established this essential fact, avoid going into your meeting with any preconceived notions.
A parent-teacher meeting is scheduled at different times across the academic year based on your child’s school schedule. If the meeting is scheduled early in the academic year, chances are that the teacher hasn’t had an opportunity to get to know your child yet. In most cases, they are dealing with 30 children, trying to understand and work with each one of them. It is possible that they still haven’t figured out how wonderful your child is at this early stage. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Use the first parent-teacher meeting to give them a little background on your child. Let them know his likes, dislikes and interests. What motivates him? Has he had any trouble in his previous years, academically or socially? Don’t expect the teacher to know. By having a frank and honest discussion with your child’s teacher, you are equipping her to deal better with your child. Make notes before your meeting to ensure that you do not leave out any relevant information.
Be open to any negative feedback that she has to give you about your child. Avoid being defensive about it. I know it’s easier said than done but just the act of being aware that you may be defensive will help you accept what she is trying to say. If there are behavioural or academic issues that need to be addressed, work together to come up with a plan of action. Some teachers may vaguely indicate a problem but not offer any solutions. Ask for concrete steps you can take on the home front to help your child work his way through his difficulties. Make written notes of all her suggestions. Summarise your notes at the end of the discussion to ensure that you are on the same page.
If there is an issue that needs to be addressed in your child’s class, first speak with the concerned class teacher. As parents, we often hear only one side of the argument. The teacher in the classroom has a better understanding of classroom dynamics and is therefore, better equipped to deal with a situation. Give her a chance to fix the situation before escalating matters to the management.
Choose your battles wisely. Not all battles in school need to be fought by you. Allow your child to fight some of his battles himself. If your child has not been chosen for the school play or elocution competition, let him figure it out. A child gains essential life skills when he learns to navigate the complex social web of a school environment by himself.
Avoid criticising your child’s teachers in front of him. It encourages your child to be disrespectful and undermines the teacher’s authority. Always be appreciative of their efforts in managing a class of 30 students. As parents, most of us struggle to manage one or two children.
Through the year, keep your channels of communication open. Make sure that your contact details are regularly updated in the school records. Read all official communication from school carefully and check the school diary on a regular basis. Keep the class teacher informed of any major changes at home. Children are highly susceptible to changes in environment. A death in the family, a change in a parent’s job or even marital discord amongst parents have been known to affect a child at school.
Your child’s school is his home away from home. It is a place where he will spend the maximum amount of time in his growing years. The teachers in the school are an integral part of your child’s life. By taking the lead in building honest, respectful and constructive relationships based on trust with your child’s teachers, you are paving the way for your child’s success in school.