It is Parent-Teacher conference season, that time of year that professional educators and the parents of their students come together to celebrate accomplishments, identify goals and articulate plans.  There is so much positive spin on the intent of these sit-downs that it could have its own press cycle.

Naturally, we all hope for the best during these meetings.   Parents go in with their edited questions neatly written on legal pads, or filed on desk tops.  The teachers enter with their grade books, course hand-outs and classroom calendars.  No one’s looking for a fight, but due diligence has been done, and done well, by all stake holders.  Game on, baby…

The scope and sequence of conferences change as a student progresses deeper into his/her academic career.   Naturally, the tone and content of a meeting about a kindergartener is different from that of a seventh grade, super hormonal, adolescent.  In the former, happy tears are often shed among the educational team.  In the later, however, wails of lament, shame and/or accusation often divide the stakeholders.

As such,  and until Valium is in the public water supply, the following guidelines might help educational teams as they prepare for this season’s round of Parent-Teacher conferences:

Before the conference:

  • Schedule conferences so that another adult can attend with you.  A spouse, best friend, mentor or grandparent will hear and remember different pieces of information than you might not register.  Additionally, having a witness to confront or restrain you often assures you will not do or say anything too painfully stupid, embarrassing, or intense.
  • Pack a sense of humor.  You’ll need one.
  • Before meeting with the teacher, please review with the person who will attend the meeting with you all the times your child has been grounded, lost technology privileges or sentenced to family-community-service since the last marking period.  Remember that what happened in your home may well be different than what your child asserts at school.  It’s not paranoid if someone has really told his/her teachers you’re clinically bi-polar.
  • Assess what you think your child’s grade should be at the time of the conference based on papers and assignments that you’ve actually seen.  Understand this may well be off the mark.  Expect omissions, backpack consumption, lost articles, and forgotten items.
  • Consider the questions you will ask during the conference prior to going to the meeting.  Connect with your child to determine if there are any confessions s/he wishes to make before the meeting.  Offer a two-for-one deal on all infractions done by your child at the school s/he has not yet vetted with you in hopes you won’t enter the meeting totally clueless.
  • Be ready to probe how the teacher’s classroom makes space for your child to demonstrate his strengths.  Assess if there are vending machines, video games and cell phone chargers easily assessable to his/her workspace.
  • Investigate if your child has difficulty in certain subjects, for example, selective listening, hygiene, workspace organization, mood swings and communication with adults.
  • Distinguish between the conference and the confessional.  Offer no life stories, personal narratives, nostalgic memoirs, tearful pleas, or begging for mercy.
  • Be certain to ask about the thing your kid cares about most.  How are his/her friendships going?  Is he getting along with teachers?  How are his relationships?

On conference day

  • Show up on time.
  • Shut up and listen.  You talk enough at home.
  • No crying.
  • Ask teacher what s/he wants you to do differently at home.
  • Shut up and listen.  You talk enough at home.
  • Work cooperatively to put a plan in place if one is required.
  • Shut up and listen.  You talk enough at home.
  • Schedule follow-up conference if necessary.
  • No crying.
  • Leave on time.


After the conference

  • Celebrate positive comments and insights from teacher with your child.
  • If you made a plan with the teacher, introduce it positively to your kid and implement it right away.
  • Let your kid know that you wish to work with him/her and his/her school so that s/he can do his best work.
  • Update teacher on progress you see at home.
  • Write a note or email of thanks to the teacher for his/her time.

It is painfully difficult for parents not to take their children personally.  This makes Parent-Teacher conferences rife with possibilities for conflict.  However, if you live with an adolescent, you really must safeguard your conflict energy for use at home.  All kidding aside, the conference might be the place you are reaffirmed in the conviction that you are not crazy, and your kid is actually, pimples and hormones aside, a really great, growing, thriving, individuating individual.

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!