With all the pressures on our children to achieve, it's more important than ever for parents to realize that what happens with their children in the early years of school will impact their lives forever.
Parents have the right and the responsibility to ask questions about what children are learning and how they can help their children in all areas of development. It is very important for both parents to attend conferences and provide input. Fathers often have a somewhat different perspective that can make the discussion even more valuable to everyone concerned.
Be prepared to share information about your child's learning style, talents and what motivates him best.
I thought it would be interesting to say something about these conferences from the teachers' point of view, not just the parents' perspective. So I asked a retired first-grade TCAPS teacher what the teachers expect parents to ask or hope parents will discuss at the conferences. Here is her insight.
"Of course parents will ask, 'How is my child doing?' Often they want to know how they're doing in comparison with classmates. As teachers we steer away from peer comparisons; instead we share where their child is in relation to grade-level expectations/exit skills. Each child is an individual so that's what really matters.
"Teachers hope that a parent will also ask about the child's behavior, and what may need to happen to curb negative behaviors or encourage positive ones. And teachers do hope a parent will ask how they could help their child at home -- from remedial help to enrichment, whatever is needed.
"Teachers will want to share the positive things that have occurred since school began -- adjusting to classroom routine, rules, social behaviors and friends. They also want to share basic academic progress, tell where the child stands with grade-level expectations, and give the parents a glimpse into what the rest of the school year may entail for the child, especially academically. Short- and long-term goals should always be a topic of conversation. Both parents and teachers need to be on the same wavelength to do joint planning. I would hope a teacher would be pretty frank, to avoid 'surprises' along the way.
"Encouraging parents to be involved in their child's school life is important ...asking about their day, going over their work, and helping as needed. But most all, I hope that teachers, especially those of lower elementary/early childhood classes, will remind and encourage parents to have their children 'play' and be 'creative' every day. These very important parts of their children's development are not addressed on a daily basis in most school settings."
Now here are a few of my own basic reminders for parent/teacher conferences. Conferences are a two-way effort. You know your child best and you need to share this information.
• Jot down some notes about what you think the teacher needs to know about your child's learning style, interests, personality, talents and strengths. Put a summary on your computer and make a printout to leave with the teacher. This information will help the teacher understand what interests your child and what makes him eager to learn. It's a good idea to give the teachers some written input on your child's learning style and motivation.
• If there are any problems, brainstorm ways to help both at home and school, including the types of praise and reinforcement that teachers and parents will both use consistently.
• Leave your home and work phone numbers and exchange email addresses.
• Plan to meet again, if necessary.
• When you get home, talk in a positive way with your child about the conference.
Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and early childhood educator and author who lives in Traverse City; see her website at askevelyn.com.