November 2018 / Scarborough, Ontario, Canada
Meet the Teacher
A Parents’ Guide to a Productive Parent/Teacher Interview
By Catherine Bacque
It’s that time of year again: parent/teacher interviews are happening at our local schools! As a mother of three and a high school teacher for over thirty years, I know how busy with work, home, and family we all are. Many parents may not feel fully prepared to meet with their child’s teachers, so here are six steps I suggest parents can take toward a successful parent/teacher interview.
Interviews are much more productive if you educate yourself. If your child has an Individual Education Plan, make sure you know what it says about your child’s strengths, needs, and accommodations. A week or more ahead of the interview, ask to see your child’s course outline, recent marked work and current assignments. If your child doesn’t have these, in hard copy or on an online platform like Edmodo or Google Classroom, you still have time to send a note or call the teacher. Teachers really appreciate parents who take an interest in more than marks, so find out what the units covered so far were about and how your child responded to them. You’d be surprised how far a little knowledge about what your child is studying will go at the inevitable dinner table conversation: “So what happened at school today?” “Not much.” vs “Which was the best French presentation today?”
Leave Your School Days at the Door
Whether you loved school, or those years are not your best memories, this interview is about your child, not you. Try not to let your own feelings and experiences influence you, and remember that the teacher is not judging your parenting. You will discover a lot more about your child’s progress at school if you don’t compare them to your experiences or think that their successes or failures are due to your parenting style. The teacher has seen how your child is responding to school, and it may be very different from how you did. I recall an interview with my daughter’s Kindergarten teacher (a wonderfully experienced and professional teacher) when I had to fight back tears because I took the fact that my child wasn’t adjusting to school very easily much too personally. Also, education is a rapidly changing field, so things aren’t the way they were when you went to school.
It’s All About the Child
The interview is unlikely to make you and the teacher best friends, and that’s fine, but you aren’t adversaries either. You are allies in supporting your son or daughter. Focus on your child’s progress. Try treating it like work, where you and the teacher are on the same project team. This is a professional meeting, and the project is the child you love. Both you and the teacher are in your child’s corner. On that note, think carefully before including your child in the meeting, as they may feel you are ‘ganging up on them’ if the conversation turns to how they must improve.
Manage Your Expectations
As a high school teacher who has taught all levels, including the most academically demanding curricula, gifted students, and students with significant learning challenges, I have met with many parents who have specific expectations of their children. Parent: “I need a 90!” Me: “So you would like to know the best ways to help your child achieve higher grades?” We all want our children to be successful, and teachers do too. However, many students today find themselves under a great deal of stress to get the highest possible results – for awards, scholarships, entrance to specialized programs or prestigious universities, for bragging rights. Sometimes that stress can affect their health and wellbeing. Take the pressure off. Make the conversation about strategies for improvement, not marks.
Ask Questions and Listen Carefully
This may be the only time you meet with your child’s teacher this year. Ask specific questions, listen carefully to the answers, examine the results teachers have to show you, and take note of the teacher’s oral comments. Remember that Parent/Teacher interviews always take place when there is plenty of time for your child to regroup and get help if necessary.
Get The Next Steps
Since there is still time for your child to get extra help, improve their results, and possibly to re-do or finish incomplete work, discuss next steps with the teacher. Find out if the school has a peer tutoring program, after school homework help, and when the teacher has office hours to meet with students for extra help. If your child just needs some prodding or encouragement, ask the teacher for suggestions about how to help them manage their time, organize their work, and work better and more effectively in and out of school.
If you and the teacher decide on a game plan, you may wish to plan some future communication, after some steps have been taken. Most teachers can be reached by telephone at the school. Ask when it is best to call and which extension to use, but know that the teacher may have to call you back. Teachers generally cannot talk to you during class time, usually between 8:30 and 3:30. Leave a message, and better with a person than a voicemail. Some teachers will do email communication with you, but not all.
One of the most important things I have learned as teacher and parent is that both parties come to the interview with important knowledge and questions. Listening to each other is key to a successful meeting. Oh, and you might consider bringing some cash in case there’s a Parent Council bake sale and coffee on hand!