Yep, it’s hard to believe that it’s that time of year again. Though it seems as if the school year has just started, you’ll soon receive an email or a notice from your child’s teacher asking you to sign up for the fall parent-teacher conferences. Some parents look forward to this meeting, feeling confident that they will hear praise about their child’s learning, behavior and social skills. But for a lot of us, there is a bit of fear and dread as we worry about what we might learn of our child’s academic challenges, misbehavior and/or social mishaps.
Regardless of where you stand on your child’s parent-teacher conference—looking forward it, wishing you could avoid it, or somewhere in between—try to see it as an opportunity to hear about your child’s learning, and to understand what life is like for him in this very separate world called ‘school.’
As professionals who work with children and families, we are used to hearing how differently kids present at home versus in school. Often, children will be on their best behavior in class, working hard to “keep it together” in front of their peers and teachers. But by the time they get home, having spent a lot of extra energy dealing with whatever stressors they face at school, they have to let off steam somehow. And, lucky us! Because we love them in good times and bad, parents tend to get the meltdowns, tears and tantrums. So, while it may seem that your child’s teacher is speaking about someone else’s kid during your conference, remember that it’s not that unusual to see a difference in behavior between home and school.
While you may want to allow your child’s teacher to continue to perceive him as an ‘angel,’ it will be important for you to share the fact that once he arrives at home, you see signs of school-related stress. Why shatter the myth?! Ultimately, whatever is causing your child to end his day in tears or locked in his room needs to be addressed as soon as possible, as the learning and social demands of school will only increase year to year.
Though all of us want to do our best, there are some who simply can’t pull it together in any situation. For some children, this will be the case even early on in school. Kids with sensory processing concerns don’t want to feel anxiety at recess or in gym class, but they do. Students with attention deficit disorders want to focus and sit still, but they can’t. And, children with learning differences would do anything to be able to read or do math like their friends, but without the right kind of support, they will end up feeling dumb. And, while we as parents should be able to assume that all teachers will be as observant and concerned as we are about our children’s emotional and educational progress, this is not always the case. Large class sizes, pressure to keep children off Ed plans and teacher burn-out are just a few of the reasons why it’s up to parents to advocate for their children—regardless of what teachers see and say.
This, then, brings us back to conference time, and how to make the most of it for your child. As you know her best, you should feel empowered going into this meeting with questions and concerns—should you have any. A few key things will help make this 30-minute meeting really count:
Finally, you should also know that by middle school, regularly-scheduled parent-teacher conferences often stop. It will be up to you in most cases to call a meeting at any point in the school year to raise concerns, discuss your child’s progress and find out what you can do to help if there are any issues. Even in pre-school and elementary school, parents have the right to convene a conference with their child’s teacher or any other school staff at any time, not just when routinely scheduled. Emailing or putting concerns into writing is also an effective way to communicate without necessarily holding a formal meeting, but the job falls to us as parents to advocate for our kids—even at the best schools with the best teachers.
Yep, it’s that time of year again. Good luck!