Rabbi Chaim Trainer
Some parents anticipate parent-teacher conferences eagerly. Others dread them, and a few just ignore them. Are they really important or are they merely a waste of time? More importantly, how can we as parents contribute to their efficacy?
My experience, both as a parent and a classroom rebbe, has taught me that the ten minute investment in our child’s year of education is a clear no-brainer. The return on our investment can be huge. These ten minutes have the potential to effect an improvement in our child’s school performance.
Admittedly, we sometimes come away from the conference not any smarter about our children’s learning. However, it is definitely worth our time and effort even if we don’t find out anything earth-shattering. First of all, our attendance sends a crucial message to our children: They, and their school performance, are important to us. This can help build their sense of self-worth, as well as impress upon them the importance of doing well in school. If they sense that we don’t care that much about how they do in school, why should they care?
Our attending also sends a similar message to their teachers: We care about how our children are doing. Teachers are human and our display of interest can encourage them to be more interested in having our children succeed. That extra concern can make a huge difference in some children’s success.
There are also real, tangible benefits to be gained from meeting with the teacher. It’s an opportunity to tweak your child’s educational experience, and the right “tweak” can bring significant benefits to your child. Remember, no news is not necessarily good news when it comes to your child’s learning. There may be real issues at school that you are not aware of.
In order to gain the most from this important interaction, a number of do’s and don’ts are in order.
Do: Prepare for the meeting by studying your child’s report card, discussing the grades and any other issues with your child, and thinking about what you want to ask the teacher.
Don’t: Criticize the teacher. You’re there to discuss your child’s progress; not the teacher’s ability or past mistakes. Remember, you may successfully prove the teacher wrong but your unpleasant conversation may negatively impact your and your child’s relationship with this teacher. If you feel your child is having a problem with something the teacher is doing, phrase it in a question form. For example, if you feel the teacher gives too much homework, you can ask, “How long is the homework supposed to take?” or, “What should I do if I see my child is overworked and stressed when it takes her over two hours to complete his homework?”
Do: Compliment and express appreciation for all the teacher does. Ask your child if there is anything he or she likes about the class and make sure to mention it to the teacher. If you noticed any improvement in your child’s learning or yiddishkeit, mention it and give them credit. Appreciation encourages teachers to work even harder.
Don’t: Discuss or complain about issues that should rather be discussed with the administration, such as curriculum or scheduling. It’s a waste of precious time and can be frustrating for both of you.
Do: Give your full attention to the teacher. Don’t answer your cell phone – or, better yet, shut it off. Your children’s teachers deserve ten minutes a year of your undivided attention. I’ve had parents who carefully took notes during our meeting, and this never failed to impress me.
Don’t: Panic or get upset if the teacher says that your child has, or may have, any type of disability. Differentiate between facts and opinions and just calmly ask the teacher why he thinks so and get the facts. You’ll have time to think it over, obtain other opinions and come to your own decision later. Additionally, calmly ask the teacher, “Even if he has this disability, what can we do now to help him learn better in class?”
Do: Ask what you can do to help your child succeed. If the teacher requests something that is not possible for you, be honest and try to discuss alternatives.
Do: Feel free to ask about how your child is doing socially and spiritually. However, remember that not every teacher is at recess and even those that are may not have this information at their fingertips. Offer to call back in a week or two if the teacher would like more time to observe your child.
Don’t: Stay longer than the ten minute time limit if there are other parents waiting. If you need more time, ask the teacher if you can continue your discussion over the phone on a later date.
Do: Make a plan to stay more closely in touch if there were any surprise revelations about your child’s learning. Periodic communication with the teacher can help encourage many children to improve.
May Hashem help us all help our children succeed to their utmost.
Rabbi Trainer, a rebbe in Yeshiva Rav Isaacsohn/Toras Emes in Los Angeles, is the author of Shalom Secrets, a guide for children on how to live in peace with others. He also works with boys individually and in groups to help them achieve social success. He can be reached at 323-549-0279.