Question: I always go into fall conferences with a few questions for the teacher, but as I try to focus and process the teacher’s introductory comments, I forget everything I intended to discuss. What can I do to make the most of this time?
Doing a bit of prep work by reflecting on your child’s work will help lay the foundation for a good conference. Although saving every paper forever is unnecessary, it is helpful to hold assignments for a grading period. Have several papers from each subject area to develop a good understanding of what your child is struggling with or what he is accomplishing. Without a good sampling, it is easy for the one poor assignment to stand out in your mind when twenty were done well (or vice versa). And you may discover that what appeared to be a tough concept for your child was mastered in the following assignment. Taking the time to look through the papers a few days before a conference will give you a more complete picture and will likely yield some great topics for conference discussion.
Whether your concern is concept mastery or work habits, having a few tangible examples to show the teacher will help him or her to understand your question and to provide more meaningful feedback.
For the best response, consider sending in your question ahead of time. That way, the teacher will have time to gather the information you are seeking and will not be caught off-guard, ensuring you receive a well-reasoned response.
Question: One student in my child’s classroom seems to have consistently poor behavior. My son takes great delight in sharing the details every time we talk about school. He is obsessed with this topic and seems very judgmental. What can I do?
Teaching children how to balance sharing their experiences at school and sharing their perceptions of someone else’s school experience is so tricky. As parents, we want to know everything! But when sharing information about school changes to focusing on someone else’s struggle, we have to be very careful.
First, offer suggestions as to how your child might help his classmate by modeling good behavior, showing consideration for the other student and ignoring the poor behavior. Then, ban the topic! Ask your child to consider how he would feel if that child were telling his parents about a time that he misbehaved. Discuss how hurtful gossip is and how distorted stories become when they are passed along. Help your child understand that his own behavior is his (and your) only concern.
Explain to your child that he should always tell the adult in charge if someone is hurting someone else or is in danger of being hurt. Short of that, the name of the child who is misbehaving should never come up.
Initiate a face-to-face meeting with your child’s teacher as soon as possible. One of the keys to a good school year is forming a partnership with the teacher. For the partnership to be effective, it should be based on the strengths of both parties: your experience with your child and the teacher’s experience with other children. Everyone has the same goal: to have a good school year.
Rather than hide past troubles, share them with the teacher and discuss what worked and what did not work in trying to overcome them. Together determine what will be communicated when and how the information will be shared. Proactively develop a behavior accountability plan that is consistent at home and at school. Discuss rewards and consequences that can be implemented in both places.
Before you leave, set up a follow-up phone conference or meeting. Respect the teacher’s time by keeping your calls and meetings focused and brief. Regularly express your appreciation for this time and attention as this is one of the key aspects to building this important partnership.
Question: My fifth grader starts each school year fired up and committed to giving his best, but after the first month of school he begins to slack off. How do I help him maintain his enthusiasm?
Interest and excitement are typically greatest at the start of anything; we all have to work to maintain that fire as time goes on. Beginning to develop strategies to stay engaged is a skillset that will be used for a life time!
Invite your son to make a written list of long term and short term academic goals. The long term goals can be specific (I want to go to this college to become this) or more general (I want to get a scholarship for college). The short term goals may be quarterly honor roll or improved skills in a certain subject. Help him to develop a list of behaviors that will lead to his goal. Mark on the calendar a few check points when the two of you will discuss his progress. This reminder of purpose will help foster the commitment that you want him to display.
Ask the Teacher is written by Deb Krupowicz, a mother of four and current teacher. Deb holds a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and has over twenty years of experience teaching preschool, elementary and middle school students. Please send your questions to her at email@example.com.