Despite the sometimes negative feelings a parent-teacher conference can invoke, these meetings remain a vital part of your child’s education.
Parent-teacher conferences allow parents and teachers an opportunity to discuss a student’s particular obstacles, successes, and interests. In addition, these conferences are your chance to ask questions, which are often difficult to address over phone or email.
It is important to come to each conference prepared with knowledge and a list of questions. But what to ask? Make the most of parent-teacher conferences by asking these 10 questions.
1. "How does my student’s knowledge rank among his or her peers?" To gauge how well your student is doing, it is important to have a frame of reference. By comparing your student’s performance to that of his or her academic peers, you gain a better understanding of where your student should be academically and if he or she struggles in a certain area. While “doing good” or “doing poorly” are relative terms, this question allows you to get feedback that is actually measurable.
2. "Is my student putting in his or her best effort during class?" Students don’t always perform poorly in school because they don’t understand the content. Sometimes they are simply disinterested and therefore not motivated to learn. Ask your child’s teacher if he or she feels that your child is sincerely trying. If the answer is no, you might work with your student to establish better behavior patterns. If the answer is yes (and your student is still struggling), you may need to think more seriously about solutions, whether that means helping your child with homework, providing him or her with a tutor or asking about after-school assistance. Either way, this question can provide valuable insight.
3. "Can you clarify testing procedures or assessment outcomes?" For many parents, understanding the ins and outs of testing can feel overwhelming. There are state-mandated tests, end-of-year assessments, in-class tests and college admissions exams. The parent-teacher conference is the perfect time to ask teachers to explain test results, how frequently exams are administered and how your child can improve his or her testing performance. Perhaps your child suffers from test anxiety – many well-prepared and studious children can “freeze” during tests. Asking questions such as these can help you identify such a problem, and work with your child’s teacher to develop a solution.
4. "Are there areas in which my student could use improvement?" This is an important question to ask, even if your child seems to perform well in school, and it helps you identify areas where your child may struggle. Of course, you’ll want to ask follow-up questions to identify how much help your child may need and identify potential resources. Even the best students could stand to improve in one area or another. By asking this simple question, you can help better direct your child’s study.
5. "What expectations do you have for student homework?" Many students do not understand (and therefore don’t meet) teacher expectations. Both you and your child’s teacher want the best for your student. By understanding classroom expectations, you can help reinforce those standards at home. How long should your child be spending per week on homework assignments? How often is he or she tested? How are points distributed? The parent-teacher conference is the perfect time to gain an understanding of what is expected of your student.
6. "Are there additional resources available to my student?" While a teacher may not be actively involved in providing additional resources, he or she should be familiar with options provided by the school, district or within the community. Is extra help available? Does the school schedule time for study halls? Teachers have a pretty good handle on these things and can make recommendations for your student during this time.
7. "What does the rest of the semester look like?" While teachers shouldn’t be expected to give a detailed breakdown of their lesson plans, they will likely be able to provide general topics the class will cover and skills your child will learn between now and the end of the semester. This will give you an idea of where your student is headed and can help you anticipate difficulties.
8. "What does my student excel at?" Parent-teacher conferences don’t have to focus on the negative. There’s great value in identifying areas in which your student excels. Ask his or her teacher what subjects your student enjoys and does well in, and recognize that behavior at home. It’s also nice to be able to offer praise when discussing the conference with your student after it has ended.
9. "What can I do to help my child succeed?" In addition to evaluating your student’s performance, parent-teacher conferences are a great outlet for evaluating yourself. Asking how you can help your child succeed not only demonstrates a sincere interest in his or her education, but the teacher can also provide some great ideas for remaining academically involved with your student.
10. "Is there anything about my child’s academic performance or social behavior that I can offer insight on?" It may seem strange to offer information at a parent-teacher conference, but oftentimes teachers do not have insight into what makes your child tick. Effective teachers know what’s going on with their students and can offer specialized instruction (or at least empathy) based on information provided to them. If your child is misbehaving in class, it may be helpful for his or her teacher to know that this may be a result of stress at home, such as losing a family pet. Offer the teacher the chance to engage in conversation with you.
Ultimately, parent-teacher conferences provide a great way to open up the lines of communication between parent, teacher, and student. By coming prepared with a list of topics to address, you ensure that your time is well spent – something both parents and teachers can appreciate.
Heather Hamilton is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.