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Preparing for the Parent-Teacher Conference

Well, school is back in session for many schools and will be soon for the rest. And each “new beginning” brings with it both excitement and some worries – especially for parents.  One of the best ways to manage your concerns is to put a little bit of time and effort into building good communication between home and school.  While there are many ways in which parents come in contact with their children’s schools, the most common meeting ground is THE PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCE.

At some schools, conferences are scheduled twice a year with follow-ups as needed.  At other schools, individual appointments are only set up on an as-needed basis.  In any case, the intent is for parents and teachers to communicate their perceptions of the child and any concerns. This communication process is essential and the quality of the communication can have a direct bearing on how successful your student is in the system.

Unfortunately, there are many factors that may cause the communication process to break down.  In this article I want to focus on what I believe to be one of the most common and harmful ROADBLOCKS TO COMMUNICATION. That is, I want to talk about the FEARS that parents and teachers often bring into the conference setting.

Some parents fear that they will make a poor impression on the teacher because they have less formal education than the teacher (i.e., advanced degrees, etc.). Some parents have anxieties left over about school and school officials that are left over from their own early school experiences; while others fear that everything they disclose to the teacher may not be kept confidential.

Some parents fear that they will be judged and.or criticized by the teacher - subtly or overtly - for not doing enough to assist their child academically or behaviorally.  And if there is a difference of opinion patents fear that the teacher may take it out on their child in some way.

Finally, some parents fear that they will be expected to help their child with homework, which they – the parents – do not understand clearly because the methods and content have changed so much since they were in school.

But, teachers also bring their own fears into the conference setting – even though parents often do not suspect this is so.

Some fear that parents will expect more of them than they can possibly deliver. They fear being considered authorities on education who can and should be able to solve every type of problem.  What parents do not understand is that teachers are faced with such a wide range of academic “types” and personality “types” that they seldom feel they know enough.  They are afraid parents will find this out and judge them as being incompetent.

‘Some teachers fear that parents may use something they said as a reason for punishing or pressuring the child – when this was not at all their real intent.

Many teachers – especially those new to the profession – fear that the parents may become highly emotional or antagonistic and that they will not be able to handle the situation. They feel vulnerable.

Some teachers fear that if there is a disagreement, the parents will go directly to the principal with a distorted story and that their principal will not support them.

Other teachers fear that parents will not like, respect, or support them and that, subsequently, their children will come to school with a negative or hostile attitude that is supported and encouraged in the home.

These examples only begin to scratch the surface when it comes to the tense, anxious feelings which have the potential to “pollute” the parent-teacher conference.  Because we all love children and want the best for them; and because schooling is such an important aspect of every child’s life, the situation is bound to become loaded with emotions.  But that is not necessarily bad.  It simply means that, as mature human beings,  we have to recognize the feelings as they arise and share them in a non-threatening and non-judgmental manner.

The key to improving home-school communication is to remove the “roadblocks” with acts of thoughtful consideration and frank, open communication with respect for all involved.

Patrick Madden M.A. LEP's picture
Licensed Educational Psychologist

Patrick has a Masters degree in Educational Psychology with an emphasis on counseling psychology. I have spent the past 35 years developing expertise in counseling children, adolescents and young adults; and coaching teachers and parents.