Meet the Teacher

By Amy Bielby on August 12, 2008
Discussing your child can be a touchy subject. Who wants to hear that their son fails his spelling tests or that their daughter is bossy on the playground? Receiving negative feedback about your kids can get your back up, but it is important to have frank discussions about your children with their teachers in order to monitor their growth - whether it is academic or social.

Parent-teacher interviews are a great way to learn more about your child. The teacher spends almost as much time with your child as you do, so getting a second progress report can be extremely helpful. To survive your interview and help your little Einstein at the same time, follow a few guidelines.

DON’T BE AFRAID
When the opportunity arises to meet the teacher, jump at the chance. Many parents get nervous before the interview (and – surprise – so do teachers!). Don’t assume you will hear nothing but bad news; you may hear positive feedback and leave the interview as a proud parent.

If English is not your first language and you are worried about being able to communicate well, translators can often be provided through the school. Don’t be shy about asking for help.

BE PREPARED
Prior to interview day, sit down with your child, go over his latest test scores or projects, and get to know what is happening in the classroom. You don’t want to be surprised when you get to the interview and the teacher says your young scholar has actually been failing spelling and math tests. If report cards have just come out, read it carefully so you can ask the teacher questions about your child’s grades.

Make the most of your time. Often, especially at meet-the-teacher nights, the teacher can only offer you 15 minutes. Have your list of questions ready, skip the small talk and jump right into the interview. Ask about academics, but also ask about your child’s social skills. Is your child being bullied? Does he have friends and make friends easily? Does he work
well with others?

HAVE A PRE-INTERVIEW INTERVIEW
Have a long talk with your son or daughter before you meet with the teacher. Ask your kids if they have any concerns about their classes, grades, teachers or other students, and be sure to voice these concerns to the teacher. Also, make sure the teacher is aware of any changes at home that may be affecting your child’s behaviour (for example, the death of a family member or any change in the family’s dynamics).

LET YOUR DEFENCES DOWN
Before sitting down for the interview, come to terms with the fact that your child’s teacher may make a negative comment or two. Remember that you and the teacher are on the same team and in the long run, this constructive criticism will help your child. While it is okay to defend your child to a point, take time to really listen to what the teacher is saying. It isn’t
helpful to get angry or defensive; instead, work with the teacher to problem-solve.

Betty Wong, a primary/junior teacher for the Toronto District School Board in Scarborough, Ontario, finds it frustrating when parents won’t listen or take advice. “I had one parent who was in complete denial about her son’s behaviour,” she says. “She was always on the defensive when I had something to say. She always had an excuse or reason to justify her child’s behaviour. Sometimes it is disheartening because we want to see the child succeed and we can’t get to the next level without the support of the parents.”

The parent-teacher team dynamic is important. “Often, parents instantly take their child’s side,” says Wong. “I understand the inclination to want to do that, but let’s be realistic – why would a teacher lie to you? The fact that we take the time to talk to you about a concern shows that we care.”

PROJECT POSITIVITY
Approach the interview with a positive attitude. Don’t assume that a meeting will not go well. Dave McQueen, an elementary school teacher with the Greater Essex County District School Board in Windsor, Ontario, suggests the ‘positivenegative- positive sandwich’. If you have a negative comment to make, sandwich it between two positive comments, no matter
how trivial. In turn, the teacher will try to do the same. Acting negatively toward the teacher won’t help your child.

DURING THE INTERVIEW
Take notes. If you feel that your child needs help in certain areas, use guidance from the teacher to come up with a game plan. Jot down pieces of advice or comments from the teacher. You’ll want to be sure that you understand the problems when you get home and you don’t want to forget an important study or learning tip.

McQueen says, “Ask teachers questions, but know that we have rules we must follow and there are topics we can’t discuss.” Teachers cannot discuss other students or decisions made by the school administration.

“Help us to help you,” says McQueen. “Support our decisions and we will support yours. We are a team, and together we can ensure that your child reaches his or her full potential.”

DECIPHERING REPORT CARDS
Report cards are usually handed out two to four times a year, depending on the grade level. Teachers have guidelines they must adhere to when writing reports and only have a small area in which they can specifically address your child. Teachers are asked to refrain from being emotional, and therefore reports often come across as cold or distant.

The most important section to look at is the section concerning learning skills. Here, teachers discuss your child’s class participation, conflict resolution, homework completion and leadership skills. This is where you will get the more personal information about your child, rather than the info that is given on the rest of the report, which is curriculum-based.

POST-INTERVIEW
  • Sit down with your child and go over the discussion you’ve had with the teacher.
  • Don’t forget the teacher’s advice. Dismissing the teacher’s comments will only bring you back to square one. Instead, implement the ideas you’ve discussed.
  • If you were told that your child is having difficulty in school, get involved. Lend a hand when it comes to studying – make flash cards, have a spelling bee or create practice tests.
  • Stay in contact with the teacher to keep a close eye on your child’s progress. Ask the teacher if you might be able to set up weekly progress reports in the form of e-mails.
  • Maintain the dynamic of the parent-teacher team.
  • If you still disagree with the teacher, do not badmouth the teacher to your son or daughter. If they understand that you do not respect the teacher, they won’t either. PC

By Amy Bielby| August 12, 2008

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