What To Ask At Parent/Teacher Conferences

Parent-teacher conference time is stressful.

It is stressful for students, for teachers, for administrators and of course, for you; the parents. Students, specifically those failing or endanger of failing, are fearful of their parents’ reactions when outed by their teachers. Teachers are stressed by the possibility of bad interactions with parents. Administrators are stressed by the possibility of teachers not doing their jobs and parents overreacting. Parents are stressed for multiple reasons. In addition to the anxiety surrounding the academic condition of their child(ren), parents may have to arrange childcare for any other children, gain coverage at work (and possibly miss a day’s pay) to attend P/T conferences, have the family’s evening routine disrupted, or spend unavailable money to purchase dinner for a lack of time to cook dinner.

What if you are a parent of an urban/inner-city school student(s)? You may deal with similar anxieties mentioned above; many parents deal with those. You may also navigate other concerns that may or may not be familiar to suburban and rural parents. You may feel a cultural barrier that exist between the White faculty and yourself. You may feel a psychological barrier existing between yourself and a very similar public school system, or maybe the exact same one, that may have failed you in one way or another. You may feel there is a language barrier between you and educators at your child’s school who use lingo to possible confuse you. You may feel that your child’s school does not view you as an equal partner in their education. These feelings lead to a logical question; how do parents feeling these things overcome those barriers? The first thing is that you have to admit those feelings that you feel and confront them. Confronting your feelings simply means that after you’ve admitted to having them, you explore the reasons for them and the facilitating factors that got you to that place. Next, consider your child or children. Sit down with them and discuss with them about any anxieties they may have. You may want to share with them your anxiety and where it stems from. Give your children a chance to offer their feelings and reflections. Walking into a P/T conference with knowledge of circumstances surrounding the thoughts of you and your child gives the needed perspective every parent needs before they speak to teachers. Knowledge of those things will inform whether or not you need to advocate for those emotions or keep them under subjection.

Next is the day you walk into the school to meet with the teachers. Maybe you’ve been in contact with your children’s teachers since the beginning of the year. Maybe this is your first time at the school since the beginning of the year. Regardless of which truth is yours, you belong in that building and deserve an account of what is happening with your child in their school building. If you’re not necessarily sure on what exactly to say or do when you arrive, don’t worry. The school should direct you to where you need to go. If you’re unsure of what to say or ask to get the answers and solutions you’re looking for, here are some questions you can ask that can help:

General Questions to Ask:

  1. WHAT CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT MY CHILD’S PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER? This question will tell you all that you need to know about how a particular teacher think towards your child. Listen to the words they use, watch the body language they express and feel the vibe they give off when they do both. The messages you receive will inform just how to respond during the rest of the conversation.
  2. WHAT 3 SPECIFIC THINGS DOES (INSERT CHILD’S NAME HERE) NEED TO DO TO MASTER THE CONTENT IN YOUR CLASS? Ask the question just like this. This question takes cuts straight to the chase and prevents any bull-shitting of any sort by the teacher when informing you what your child needs to do to improve. Asking for three specific things does three specific things: (1) it forces the teacher to give you a concrete answer, (2) it provides you with the answer for how your child can improve academically and (3) it gives you a measurement to hold both your student and your student’s teacher accountable. Ultimately, such a question lets your teacher know that while you care about grades, you also care that your child can apply what they’ve learned outside the classroom as well.
  3. WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE IN THE CLASSROOM ON A DAILY BASIS? This question is so that you have ammunition that can be used when advocating for your child specifically when speaking with administration. Teachers have used information about parents and behaviors parents have exhibited against them to gain the support of administrators when in a dispute with a parent. It makes sense to have your intel ready if you enter conflict with the school over your child. You must ask this question for another reason; you must know the daily struggles of your child’s teachers to gain an understanding of how hard the job is and also to advocate for those teachers for the sake of your child’s academic growth.
  4. HOW CAN WE COLLABORATE TO ENSURE THAT (INSERT CHILD’S NAME HERE) BEGINS OR CONTINUES TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL SCHOOL YEAR IN YOUR CLASS? Here you begin to establish yourself as a solutions oriented parent willing to work with teachers as a partner in the education of your child. YOU are the primary educator of your children. You teach kids by what you say, what you do and how you manage your life. You are the parent; however, it takes a village to raise a child. Let your teacher know they are a part of the village… some may be a passer-by, others may visit and others may stay for a while. Depending on the length of their stay, you can dictate the terms of the relationship. However, let them know that in order for this relationship to work, it must work with you both working together.

Questions to Ask if you’re told that Your Child is in Danger of Failing or is Failing a Class:

  1. PLEASE ASSESS (INSERT CHILD NAME HERE) ABILITY TO INTERNALIZE THE CONTENT; PLEASE ASSESS YOUR ABILITY TO DELIVER THE CONTENT. So the teacher informs you that your child is in trouble academically in their class. You wish to know why. First thing is to get info on how your child process what they are learning and how their teacher offers it. Sure, the teacher will tell you why your child is in danger – missing assignments, failed tests and quizzes, poor participation… but the assessing gets to the deeper reasons. You want to address root causes not symptoms.
  2. ARE YOUR LESSONS CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE AND CULTURALLY RELEVANT? IF SO, HOW MUCH SO? CAN YOU PROVIDE ME WITH A BRIEF EXAMPLE? Your child is a student of color living in a 21st century world where technology dominates their daily life and the color of their skin can dictate how long that life lasts. Your child observes the social issues that impact the what, the where and the who they have access to. Your child’s teachers should account for that during their lesson planning. Failing to do so may contribute to a lack of interest or lack of connection for the importance of what your child is being taught. Encourage your teachers to become more culturally responsive in their teaching.
  3. WHAT 3 THINGS CAN (INSERT CHILD NAME HERE) IMPROVE UPON TO MASTER THE CONTENT; WHAT 3 THINGS CAN I IMPROVE UPON TO ASSIST (INSERT CHILD NAME HERE) TO MASTER THE CONTENT; WHAT 3 THINGS CAN YOU IMPROVE UPON TO ASSIST (INSERT CHILD NAME HERE) TO MASTER THE CONTENT? This is self-explanatory. This grouping of questions puts the onus on everyone involved in your child’s education: you, your child’s teacher and your child. All share the blame and all share the praise. This can go a long way when impressing upon a teacher that you are a very present partner in the education of your child. Again, the list of 3 things is to provide each of you with a realistic and attainable standard to reach that will hold each of you accountable to one another.

Questions to Ask if you’re told that Your Child is in Disruption in Class:

  1. WHAT BEHAVIORS HAS (INSERT CHILD’S NAME HERE) EXHIBITED AND WHAT DOES THE BEHAVIOR SAY TO YOU? This question is specifically to hear from the teacher. The previous general questions have set you up to confirm your gut feelings about the teacher with this question. You will absolutely know what direction you should go when speaking after you hear the answer to this group of questions. Either the teacher has love for your child or simply wishes to deal with your child.
  2. WHAT DOES CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT LOOK LIKE IN YOUR CLASSROOM? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ADDRESS THE UNWANTED BEHAVIORS FROM MY CHILD PRIOR TO REFERRING MY CHILD TO ADMINISTRATION? This question is more ammunition for you. If the teacher cannot properly facilitate their desired behavior for your child, then you can best believe they refer your child whenever they are a “problem.” Moving a seat, two to three episodes of redirecting and rewards and consequences do not necessary mean that the teacher did something to rid the unwanted behavior. It just means the followed a script. Ask the teacher how many administrative referrals they’ve given your child after they’ve answered the initial questions. If they sound like they’re following a script, know that they may not be good at classroom management and your school may not be good at it either; the script came from the school.
  3. WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE THE SOLUTION SHOULD BE TO END (OR AT LEAST LESSEN) THE UNWANTED BEHAVIOR FROM (INSERT CHILD’S NAME HERE)? This question will provide you with an opportunity to play dead. Asking this question will make the teacher answer in one of two ways. Either they will assume that you don’t know what you’re doing and tell you what should be done or they will suggest to you how they can work with you to help change your child’s behavior. Hope for the latter, but don’t be surprised to hear the former.
  4. IS MY CHILD BEING CHALLENGED IN YOUR CLASSROOM? IS MY CHILD ABLE TO ACADEMICALLY PERFORM IN YOUR CLASSROOM? IF THE ANSWER IS NO TO EITHER QUESTION – WHAT RECOURSE HAVE YOU SOUGHT AND ADMINISTRATION HAS IN PLACE TO ADDRESS THIS SITUATION? Now this question may rub teachers the wrong way. However, your concern is your child and not the feelings of their teachers. They are informing you of the situation with your child so you can help correct it, if not totally correct it. So if that is so, you need to get to the bottom of every action taken prior to your discussion with that teacher. This may involve you meeting with an administrator also; that is fine. But your purpose in asking this question is to remind the school that they have a responsibility also – to effectively and adequately teach your child. Hold them to it just like the school will hold you to being a parent (in most cases).

Here are some final tips to assist you when preparing for the conference and for preparing you for how to help your child succeed after the conference:

  • If you haven’t already done so, be sure to get the phone numbers and email addresses for each of your child’s teachers. Also, do the same for your child’s principal and whoever is in charge of discipline at the school.
  • Remain in contact with your student’s teachers and also the school’s administration throughout the year. Ask for progress updates throughout the school year. Don’t wait for progress report and report card to reach out. Stay in contact with them early and often.
  • Your school should have a way for you to check the grades of your student. Be sure that you ask about and utilize this powerful tool to help you stay on top of your student.
  • Beware of the code phrases: good student and bad student. A good student in urban schools tends to mean a kid who does what they are told and is not a disruption in class. These students could have sub par grades and they are rewarded as “good students.” A bad student in urban schools tends to mean a kid who is a constant behavioral problem – no matter how intelligent the child is or how good of grades they get.
  • If you haven’t already, please refer to the post I offered about the questions you should ask administrators and teachers if you wish to know if there is more that you should ask – those question may be helpful at a P/T conference as well. Here is the link – https://urbanedmixtape.com/2016/10/25/some-questions-parents-need-to-ask-to-teachers-and-administration/.
  • If you are still unsure of how to talk to teachers and administrators at your child’s school, take a friend with you who can speak and advocate on your behalf.

Do not be afraid to engage with every teacher you meet. I encourage you not to just approach the teachers for who’s class your child is either failing or in danger of failing. You should meet all of their teachers. You should get to know them each by asking these questions. As a parent, you must always be an advocate and you must always be vigilant. Don’t you want to have insight about who is teaching your child?

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!


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