Most schools arrange an annual parent-teacher meeting, often called a parent teacher conference. Having gone through many years of these meetings with both of my kids, at both primary and secondary level, here are my top tips for getting the most out of your parent teacher meeting:
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Maintaining a good relationship with your child’s teacher is an important tool when it comes to dealing with any issues that crop up during the school year. While the opportunity to meet briefly with him/her may crop up at drop off or collection from school, having a set time to sit down and discuss your child’s progress is an important date for your diary, and one to prioritise when the time comes.
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What Do You Need to Know About Parent Teacher Meetings?
Parent-teacher conferences are held usually once or twice a year. They are brief meetings, lasting about 15-30 minutes.
They are an opportunity for parents to:
- learn how your child is progressing academically and personally at school and whether your child is meeting academic expectations
- if your child is not meeting expectations, or is consistently exceeding them, then they may need additional testing or extra work
- find out what your child’s teacher thinks about your child’s strengths, needs, behaviours and learning styles
- find out how your child gets along with other students in class and during lunch, breaks and other classes
- discuss how both parents and teacher can support the child’s learning and if there are any services to help your child grow as a learner
- to understand if there are any issues or challenges that may be interfering with your child’s learning and growth and how these are being addressed
- make a plan in which the teacher checks in with you regularly if there is a behaviour problem.
There’s a big difference between Primary and Secondary Level, so I have tips based on my experience of both.
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Parent Teacher Meeting Tips: Primary Level
#1. Ask Your Child Before You Go
Ask your child before you go if there’s anything they would like you to bring up at the meeting. Sometimes they will tell you things you weren’t aware of because they know you are going to talk to their teacher. Ask them what subject they like best (and least) and what they don’t like. Do they have any concerns or worries they would like you to address while at the meeting?
#2. Make a List of Questions
It’s really easy to forget things when you are at the parent teacher meeting, so if you’ve anything to raise, make a little list and bring it along.
#3. Make Sure You Are on Time
At primary school, teachers usually arrange specified time slots to see parents, so if you run late then you either won’t have enough time or you will cause everyone else’s appointments to run late. So make sure to be on time.
It’s not an interview, it’s an opportunity to talk to your child’s teacher – and remember, your teacher wants to help your child too.
#5. Ask Objective Questions
If there is an issue and you start the conversation with a complaint that will probably close the doors to helpful communication between you and the teacher. It can be tricky to ask questions without seeming to pick a fight, so here are some questions you can ask to get the conversation going:
- How would you describe my child’s progress?
- Does my child behave in school?
- What are my child’s work habits?
- Does my child get along with the other children?
- How much homework will my child receive and how often?
#6. Expect to Hear About Problem Areas
No child is perfect and your child’s teacher needs to be able to tell you if there’s a problem or issue. Don’t be defensive, just try to determine if or how your child may be different at home.
If the teacher says that your child doesn’t pay attention, you might say, “At home they do pay attention when we ask them something” so you can then explore why they are not paying attention at school; perhaps they are bored or your child needs clearer expectations for his work. Your child may also play up around their friends, find it harder to concentrate in noisier group situations, or need clearer instructions – discuss these options with the teacher and come up with a plan together.
#7. Discuss Any Next Steps
At the end of the meeting, summarise what you have discussed and ask about next steps so you are clear on what you, as a parent, need to do and what the teacher and/or school will do.
#8. Thank Them
It’s nice to say a thank you at the end, because after all they see your child every day and are instrumental in nurturing them academically and personally.
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Parent Teacher Meeting Tips: Secondary Level
It’s a whole different ball game at high school. Here you are faced with trying to meet as many teachers as you can during the time allocated to parent teacher meetings. At our daughter’s secondary school, you just queue up to meet a particular teacher, then move on to the next one you want to meet.
The first time I went it was a bit of a shock compared to the primary school, so here are some tips.
#1. Ask Your Child Before You Go
Ask your child before you go if there’s anything they would like you to bring up at the meeting. Sometimes they will tell you things you weren’t aware of because they know you are going to talk to their teacher.
For each subject, ask them if there is anything in particular that needs to be brought up or queried with the relevant teacher.
#2. Have a List of All the Subject Teachers
Even though you will have heard your child mention some of their teachers, you will need a list of their subjects and the teachers’ names. Some schools send this out in advance of the parent teacher evening.
You may not get to see all of the teachers on the evening, so prioritise the ones you absolutely need to see so you can try to see them early on.
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#3. Divide and Conquer
If your secondary school has the format that parents go without their child, it may be worth adopting a ‘divide and conquer’ approach if both parents can attend. Divide up your list of teachers and see as many as possible between you.
#4. Don’t Leave Problems to That Evening
If there are problems or issues with school, then you are better to make an appointment to see your child’s teacher sooner rather than leaving it to the parent teacher evening when there may not be enough time to deal with things and discuss them sufficiently.
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#5. Concentrate on Your Child
Time is short at these meetings, so concentrate on the issues surrounding your child and finding out as much as you can from the teacher in question.
If you have issues about school policies, don’t raise these at the parent teacher meeting. Take them up with the school principal at another time.
#6. Congratulate Your Child
Make sure you have at least one positive thing to congratulate your child on after the parents’ evening. They will most likely be nervous at the thought of home and school life colliding, and a confidence boost is a great way to keep communication lines open.
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Do you have any tips to add for making the most of the parent teacher meeting? Leave a comment below and let us know – we’d love to hear from you!