How To Talk To Teachers is a podcast about asking the right questions so that you can make parent-teacher conferences successful. Teachers and Parents should be on the same team and the goal is to HELP YOUR CHILD.
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It is the parent-teacher conference season, and along with that comes a lot of anxiety and questions for both parents and students! Today I will address some common questions that I get from parents so you can stop wondering and start taking an active role in the parent-teacher conferences day!
Common Question: Do I still need to go to Parent-Conferences if I know my kid has good grades in all their classes?
Answer: No, you don't have to go to the conferences; however, I suggest that you send an email to all the teachers and verify that there aren't any other outstanding issues that should be discussed. School is more than just grades. Parent-Teacher conferences are an excellent time to talk about behavior problems, attendance issues, social concerns, and next grade level preparation. Make sure that the teacher doesn't have anything that they want to discuss with you.
Common Question: I know my child has some low grades and/or some behavioral concerns. Is there anything I should do before conferences to prepare for talking to the teacher(s)?
Answer: Contact the teacher via email and voice your concerns. Ask the teacher(s) if they want to meet you during conferences or at a different time to discuss the issues. The reason you want to do this is, conferences are very regimented. Usually, each family is only allowed a specific amount of time with the teacher to keep the day moving along. If the teacher thinks you will need extra time, then this must be prepared before the conference day. Perhaps the teacher can give you two conference slots or other arrangements can be made to provide you with the time you need to talk about your concerns.
Also, you may want to request an administrator, counselor or another specific teacher to be in attendance at the conference. This should be scheduled ahead of time.
Lastly, bring in all the documentation that the teacher may need. IEP, doctor recommendations, a list of concerns you see at home, 504 plans, behavioral plans, etc
Common Question: What if I am at the conference, and I find out that my child has some academic and/or behavioral concerns I didn't know about? What should I do?
Picture it…. A different day when I was a working full-time teacher….. I have a conference with a parent. They storm in the room and sit with arms crossed and obviously agitated. They begin to tell me how disappointed they are that their kid has a bad grade and how come they didn’t know about this sooner!
As a teacher, the parent scenario I mentioned above is very frustrating. I didn’t even know the parent wasn’t getting your emails. I had no idea that they were mad AND from the beginning- they thought I was the bad guy. It is possible that your child acts differently at school than at home, so keep an open mind when entering the classroom to talk to your teacher. Could the teacher be in the wrong- sure it is possible, but don’t automatically assume because conferences are complicated. There are 3 perspectives to consider:
So, how do you get an accurate story from both the child and the teacher? You need to know how to ask the right questions! Today, I will be giving you LOTS of questions that you should consider asking! Please don’t worry about scrambling to write it all down. All you have to do is go to theimpactfulparent.com/resources and download the FREE parent-teacher conferences worksheet. You can even print the worksheet out and take it in with you when you go to talk to your teachers.
So, Let’s get started with what to ask the Teacher!
- Have they been trying to contacting you? If not, why? It is ok to ask. Maybe they have too many students. Maybe they have emailed, called or sent home notes and you haven’t been getting them. Maybe your child hasn’t been telling you. Maybe the school makes YOU responsible for checking grades online? Find out where the communication break-down began.
- I have had parents ask me things like, “I have been looking at their assignments on-line, But it seems the teacher isn’t keeping up with inputting grades?” What should I do? I say, email the teacher. Confirm this is true. Email bugging is ok. Just be tactful. They can have 30 students in a class and that is a lot to grade! English teachers, in particular, have a lot of grading. Find out why the assignments aren’t posted, there may be a good reason, there may not be-but you are making the teacher aware that you are being an active participant in your child’s education and this alone is good and may even get them to be more on-the-ball.
Now picture this story: I walk into parent-teacher conferences to find out that my child hasn’t been doing their work. What! I saw them do it! They were working on that project all week! Those math problems were finished and they put them in their backpack! How can the teacher tell me that my child hasn’t been turning in the work when I have seen for myself that it has been done!
Whether your child is doing their work or not, you need to find out WHAT IS HAPPENING? What is the root of the problem? Is someone lying here? Is the work getting eaten by the dog each night? Is my kid just being lazy and not being responsible? Again, you don’t until you ask the right questions! Here are more questions to ask the teacher:
- What caused this? What is the teacher’s opinion about why the grade is so low? Is this a lack of studying? Is it just difficult content? Is it a lack of attention in class? Are there missing assignments? Remember my story about the child who I SAW do the homework, but the teacher said that they weren’t doing their work? Well, this story ends with the parent looking in the child’s backpack and locker. Yep. All the assignments were there and completed but never turned in. Sometimes our kids lack executive functioning skills and it is difficult for them to get a piece of paper from HOME to Backpack to Locker to classroom to teacher’s hands.
- Next, ask what can the student do to erase the past? Is there anything? Can they make anything up? Can anything be turned in for partial credit? Can they re-do tests? This is up to the teacher and the integrity of the class. Remember that teachers are doing more than teaching CONTENT. They are teaching responsibility. You want your kid to be a successful adult. They need to learn to get work done on-time, meet deadlines, not procrastinate…. For future job success. If you give too much leniency, you are teaching them that the rules don’t apply to them.
- Next, ask the teacher what can the student do moving forward? Can we create a plan for keeping the student accountable? Can the teacher sign off that homework is written in their planner? Can the teacher post when big assignments are due? Can the student come in for extra help? Can the student get a tutor?
- It is also important you understand the environment that you want your child to be successful in. What is the typical workload each night? …. Know the expectations of the class. If they are supposed to be studying 2 times a week and your child is only studying once- this could be the problem.
A lot of questions to ask the teacher but knowing expectations and being on the same page as the teacher is step 1 for your child’s success!
Now let’s move to the child. Let’s say you find out that your child has a less than desirable grade. After getting the teacher’s point of view, start asking questions to the student. They are apart of the problem so they should also be apart of the solution too! Here are questions to ask your child.
- What is their point of view on their grade? Do they think it is good enough or bad?
- What part of this grade do they take responsibility for? Can they admit that they have not studied, not turned in work, or that the material is difficult?
- What do they think they can do moving forward to make improvements?
- When did the problem start? Or what TYPE of assignments does this happen most often? For example, maybe they do good on homework assignments but don’t do well with in-class work because they get distracted? Maybe they are good with smaller assignments but find bigger, more complex assignments more challenging?
- Do they feel they need extra support? From a parent or from the teacher? Do they feel that they can improve on their own?
- Where are the old assignments now? Did you review the content you missed and needed to improve, or did they just throw the old papers and grades into the trash after they got them back? A lot of subjects build on past knowledge like Math or languages. If they aren’t taking the time to review what they missed and learn it- then they are digging a deeper hole for themselves for the next assessment.
- What does their locker/backpack/binders look like? Are they organized, messy, or even scattered? How can having a more organized locker/backpack/binder improve their work? You may have to walk them through this reasoning.
- Have you asked for help throughout the semester? Who have you been talking to about your grades? Anyone? Have you reached out for any additional help? Have you advocated for yourself to re-do or submit assignments late? Some kids just let the whole semester slide by before taking action because they feel helpless and simply don’t know what to do. You may have to walk your child through steps that need to take to advocate for themselves.
- What do their study habits look like? Do they have a schedule for working on homework? Are they procrastinating or doing homework in front of the TV? Once grades drop, study habits and expectations should be redefined.
- What are their goals for this class? For this school year? How does not reaching their goals affect their future? Are their goals attainable and realistic? Getting some kids to forward-think and see natural consequences for their actions, is difficult for some. They literally don’t have the connections developed in their brain to make the links. You may have to spell it out for them!
- Have you been attending class and paying attention? Are you distracted in class? IF so, what can you do to improve your attention?
- Have you missed class a lot? How do you make up work when class is missed? What steps do you take to make-up work?
Asking your child all these questions are getting down to the WHY the grades are low. If you start creating punishments or consequences without knowing the Why, will likely be ineffective.
Be ready to hear the teacher out. Try not to go on the defensive automatically. Teachers see "mama and daddy bear" stance a lot but remember your child may act differently at school than they do at home. Keep in mind that most teachers want your child to be happy and successful too! Your goals are the same! Teachers and parents should have a partnership.
- Start by asking the teacher for their side of the story.
- Now give the child a chance to speak their side of the story and express their concerns.
- The goal now is to correct what can be repaired and move forward with a plan of action for improvement. Discuss the plan together: teacher, parent, and student. Make sure the plan is measurable, attainable/doable, and there are concrete explanations. For example, the student can not just say, “I will study more for tests.” Instead, the goals should be specific; for example, I will study every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday night for 30 minutes on this class. You may even add WHEN they will study? Designate a specific “homework hour” each evening.
Example of a goals sheet moving forward:
- Student will study every Monday-Thursday for 30 minutes.
- Student will keep locker clean and parents will check it every Friday at pick up
- Student will come in every Wednesday morning early to get questions answered.
- Student will study vocabulary words for the week Sunday night for 20 minutes.
- Student will not sit by friends in class. The assigned seat will be front row.
- Student will not partner with friends for group projects.
- Student will show their parent their planner each evening and tell them about homework.
- Student will check the school calendar for assignments and announcements every day at lunch.
- Once the plan is made, you should write it down. This is important. Writing it down to reference it back later is extremely helpful later when the child may “forget” some of the plans, or you need to remind them of their commitment.
- Lastly, make a reward and consequences system. There should be 2 types of rewards, one is for small short-term gains that you can give for immediate feedback. Then there can be a bigger reward for maintaining the schedule the whole week or month. Lastly, make a plan for consequences if they aren’t holding up their end of the deal.
* This agreement INCLUDING THE REWARDS AND CONSEQUENCES, should be made WITH the student. They should agree to the contract and have input on the rewards and punishments. Buy-in from the student is essential and if they are not apart of creating the contract- they will never have buy-in.