Parent-Teacher Conferences are an Essential School Function
> 2/12/2007 12:38:46 PM

While every parent would like to believe that his or her school-age child is free from disciplinary and performance-related troubles, the parent teacher conference often serves as an unpleasant wake-up call, revealing the sobering distance between expectation and reality. In many cases, all three involved parties dread these meetings: the parents, the teachers, and the children being discussed. And yet educators and experts repeatedly state that these avenues of communication are absolutely indispensable and hold a considerable influence over the school careers of the kids involved. So how can one go about making the experience more pleasant for all? Is such a goal realistic, or is the accepted drudgery of these meetings an unavoidable element of the school equation?

Guides abound for parents and teachers to make the most of a potentially tense situation, and most seem driven by common sense. Both parents and teachers must enter the conversation with specific issues and goals in order to avoid allowing the process to fall into overly general "how's my kid doing" lines of questioning. Most schools send regular reports to parents by either mailing them or allowing kids to take the responsibility for presenting the papers to their parents. Still, the complications of school assessment may be too many to consume at once, so teachers should streamline their concerns and attempt to get individual points across while steering the conversation toward the best interests of the child. While reporting on various difficulties faced or created by a child, teachers should not overemphasize or dramtize these problems, especially if a parent responds with anger or threats of physical punishment. No teacher wants to be indirectly responsible for inappropriate disciplinary measures taken on the part of the parent. On the other hand, some parents will be hesitant to believe mostly bad news about their children, so a teacher's need to maintain detailed logs of all infractions committed by problem children is just as important as keeping a folder of positive marks for better-behaved kids.

Getting parents to attend and prepare for these meetings is the most important element of the larger equation - many parents are either unaware of the meetings, have scheduling conflicts, or choose not to show up due to apprehension or indifference. Another suggestion which, strangely, strikes some as radical is to adopt an approach that includes the kids in question in the parent-teacher conversation. While students, depending on age group and maturity, may not be able to appreciate much of the discussion held within these conferences, it's understandable that they would be more likely to understand the gravity of the assessments if included as an active party. Parents would also be more likely to attend if the presence of their children were suggested or required. This development could encourage further conversation and help to deflect arguments and assertions of blame on behalf of parents and teachers. Most parents are very sensitive regarding not only their children but their own skills as caregivers, and they may be likely to perceive negative observations as personal criticism.

In order to best use the teacher-parent conference as an invaluable tool for measuring and encouraging a child's academic accomplishments, the issue must be framed not as an adversarial confrontation but a constructive brainstorming session. Some teachers may feel that the inclusion of kids in the equation could downplay their authority, but if this is their major concern, they can ration time spent alone with parents and time spent in the presence of the child. A well-informed parent will ultimately be the most effective, and a teacher who finds common ground with a child's mother, father and/or guardian will be better prepared to address the particular concerns of that child. Everyone benefits from a responsibly structured, informed system.

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