Monday, Aug. 3, 2009
BACK TO SCHOOL: K-STATE EDUCATION FACULTY MEMBERS OFFER TIPS FOR PARENTS ON HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF A PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCE
MANHATTAN -- Parent-teacher conferences can be a big source of stress for both parents and children. The keys to making these meetings less stressful and more successful are being prepared and having an open mind, according to two Kansas State University College of Education faculty members.
Laurie Curtis, assistant professor of elementary education, has facilitated her fair share of parent-teacher conferences. She was an elementary teacher in the Riley County School District for 15 years before coming to K-State in pursuit of her doctorate degree.
"I also have experience as a parent because I have three kids, so I've been on both sides of the table," Curtis said.
Curtis said that parents must plan in advance when meeting with their child's teacher. She suggests the following tips for preparation for conferences at the elementary level:
* Have a conversation with your child about any questions, fears or concerns they have with you going to meet with their teacher. Make sure the child knows why you are going and that you have their best interests at heart.
* Prepare written notes and questions. Parents can get distracted and forget those important questions they meant to ask. Possible questions include: How is my child doing academically as well as socially? What types of activities do they seem to enjoy at school, and how are they doing with those activities? What does my child do at recess or at lunch? Is there anything I can be doing at home to support what the teacher is doing at school?
* Practice being open with the teacher. It is important to be prepared to share with the teacher anything that is going on at home that might impact what is going on in the classroom, Curtis said. This can be something as simple as the loss of a pet or a family member being away on an extended trip. Know that what you share with the teacher will be kept in confidence.
* Be involved in your child's life. Take notice of your child's mood when they come home from school, and show interest in what they are doing in the classroom.
* Take note of any possible social, physical or developmental problems you think your child might have so that if the teacher does mention a concern, such as the child not staying focused during lessons or not being able to see the blackboard, it does not come as a shock, Curtis said. Hearing this from a teacher without being aware of it as a parent is often difficult to comprehend.
* Only bring your child to the conference at the teacher's request. Curtis also suggested that parents not bring siblings of the child, especially younger siblings as they have a tendency to distract both the parent and the teacher.
"Make sure, as a parent, that you understand your child's strengths and weaknesses before you leave the conference," Curtis said. "This should be something that the teacher is demonstrating by sharing work samples; but if not, make sure you ask so you know exactly what you could be working on at home."
Often times, parents see attending parent-teacher conferences at the elementary level more important than attending those at the secondary level. However, Dru Clarke, instructor of secondary education at K-State, believes that taking an active role at all stages in your child's life is important.
Clarke has many years of experience in parent-teacher conferences at the secondary level. She taught middle school science in New Jersey for six years before moving to Manhattan where she taught science at Manhattan High School for 25 years.
"The frequency of parents who attend parent-teacher conferences drops off dramatically from the elementary to secondary levels," Clarke said. "Usually, the parents who come in at the high school-level are those who are really interested in their child's progress and have been since they were in kindergarten, or those parents who have a real beef with something they have seen or heard."
Clarke said at the secondary level it is more difficult for parents to meet with all of their student's teachers because they probably have a different teacher for each subject. Clarke offers tips on how parents can prioritize and get the most out of their limited amount of time with their child's teachers at the secondary level:
* Listen to your child at home, and pay attention to the teachers he or she mentions the most. Parents should visit the teachers who have had a profound impact on their child. Also, meet with those teachers who you have heard absolutely nothing about, she said.
* It is often hard for parents to see their child get a poor grade when they are normally very good students. But rather than speaking angrily with a teacher who has given your child a poor grade, try to understand why your child is not doing well in that particular subject. Clarke said to ask the teacher if there is anything you could at home to facilitate improvement.
* If your child is a junior or senior and preparing for life after high school, parents should ask teachers questions such as: How are my child's study skills? Do they manage their time well in class? Is my child prepared and organized for class every day? How can I help my child prepare for college entrance exams?
* After the conference, set aside time to talk with your child, and then allow the child to take responsibility for following up on their own progress. "As children get older they need to learn to take more responsibility for themselves," Clarke said. "You have to let them go a little bit, but also remember that they're not done growing up yet, so you must have realistic expectations of them."
Curtis and Clarke both said that to make parent-teacher conferences more comfortable, parents need to establish a relationship with their child's teacher early in the school year. Parent-teacher conferences should not be the first time that a parent and teacher meet. Having an established relationship puts both the teacher and the parent at ease."Remember that parent-teacher conferences don't need to happen just twice a year," Curtis said. "You can go in and talk with your child's teacher anytime -- they're always willing to help."