I rush to the car, grabbing items as I pass through in a blur: purse (check), paper and pen (check), toddler has presentable clothes on (check), hair brushed sometime today-mine and hers (check and check), and keys and shoes (check). This goes on for what seems like five hours but is most likely five minutes, as I make my way to the car in a rush to get to my first parent-teacher conference. We have reworked the schedules of what feels like our entire week, to fit in the short conference at my daughter's preschool. WE CAN NOT BE LATE, as we always are. We must be on time, presentable, well-behaved and totally normal for like 15 minutes. As I drive, the million questions that I have stream through my mind. I want to know if she is on track academically and socially with her peers. Does she tell the teacher the letters we have been working on so hard since she was able to speak? Does she write her name? Does she talk to the other kids and her teachers, after she finishes hiding behind my legs, and I pry her free and push her into the classroom? Does she share and use her manners, or is she that annoying kid who spills all of their crayons on the floor because they were holding on to them so tight and then screams when asked to pick them up? The mental checklist goes on and on, but of course I can't ask any of these questions, exactly. And I don't want to make the mistake I made at the beginning of the year, and scare the teacher, by asking her questions about differentiation and meeting the needs of diverse learners. My mind races, and this is only preschool people! I am just embarking on my journey with parent teacher conferences. The thought occurs to me that I have years of this ahead of me. Simultaneously, I think, snap out of this, berating myself for worrying so much. I am also supposed to be a professional. This is my field of expertise after all.
I remember sitting on the other side of the desk, as a middle school teacher, waiting for parents to arrive. Feeling the sting of setting aside hours of evening time only to have one or two parents, or even worse, no one show up. Trying to guess what was on their mind, what they expected, and the questions and concerns they might have. Deciding how to be honest but not offensive and truthful but not hurtful. How to express to them what was needed in a way that was constructive and tactful but not so nice that they didn't understand. How to make the little bit of time we had productive and positive so that they would feel comfortable and come back.
Many of you who read this, who are parents and teachers, probably have experiences similar to mine. From being on both sides, I know that parents and teachers alike experience many of the same anxieties around this time. With parent teacher conferences right around the corner, all parties involved are pondering how to pack all that needs to be said into those few precious moments. In case you too are wondering how to get the most out of a ten minute conversation, here are some tips from the education experts at Harvard on how to have successful parent teacher conferences. And remember, the most important thing is to establish an on-going relationship with your child's teacher. Parent teacher conferences are not, and should not, be the only time that you talk. Make a point to check in with your child's teacher regularly and get to know him or her. After all, this partnership between parents and teachers is more important than any single 15 minutes anyway.
-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.
Parrish Learning Zone, LLC
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