Get the most from your parent-teacher conference

It’s half-way through the school year.

January (so far) brought real winter weather, Christmas and the New Year holidays are behind us, and Spring Break is something all of us will at least begin to contemplate.

That’s either a cause for rejoicing or concern for many kids and parents, depending on how the student is faring in school.

If your child is struggling in school, it’s not too early to check in with his or her teacher. That’s the first step to making a change for the better.

Sure, school conferences aren’t that far away. But the sooner you communicate with a teacher, the sooner you will learn what you can do to help your child improve in school whether it is an issue with grades, behavior, attendance, or all of the preceding.

That’s because you — the parent — are one of the essentials to student success. Teachers want to discuss issues with parents as soon as possible.

Here’s my advice regarding how you should approach your child’s teacher for a mid-year conversation.

Before you arrive, write down the items you want to discuss during the conference. It’s better to have a list of things to discuss than simply improvise the discussion. Keep in mind that a teacher has many commitments and time is precious — he or she wants to have the discussion but probably doesn’t have hours at his or her disposal. So, do your best to keep the list brief and to the point.

Start the conference on a positive note. Teachers are human beings, too. If you enter the discussion by stating, “I know you don’t like my child” or “You and I don’t get along well” that’s not very helpful. Find something to say that is positive about your child’s experience in that teacher’s classroom. Frankly, I have seen teachers find the good in even the most challenging student, so give your kid’s teacher the benefit of the doubt.

During the conference, take notes so you won’t forget what was said. That’s better than trying to recall the conversation and it will allow you to check back on what you and the teacher agreed were the most important issues, concerns or strategies for improvement.

Commit to listening with an open mind, even if there are problems to discuss. Sometimes, that’s tough for a parent to do. But it will help you by at least allowing the teacher to present his or her causes for concern, statements of praise and suggestions for improvement.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Teachers can do a lot, but we are terrible mind readers. We want to answer your questions and provide clear answers — please ask us.

At the end of the conversation, review your discussion. Pay special attention to those things that you said you would do, what the teacher would do, what the student should do and the deadlines set.

It’s never too soon to talk to your child’s teacher. You are your student’s best advocate and the significant factor that has positive influence outside of the classroom. It might be midway through the school year, but it is a conversation worth having.

A former reporter who covered politics and government for newspapers in California and Oregon, Paul R. Huard teaches social studies and English courses at Ashland High School. The opinions he expresses are his own.

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