Meeting Teacher Doesn't Have to Be Scary Experience

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES, Mary Laine Yarber teaches English and journalism at an area high school.

If your child is having academic or behavioral problems at school, it's a good idea to schedule a parent-teacher conference.

Some school districts plan parent-teacher conferences throughout the year, but at many it's up to parents to take the initiative.

The thought of meeting face to face with a child's teacher strikes fear into many parents. No parent likes to hear bad news about a child, and it's often difficult to come up with easy solutions.

With some simple guidelines, though, parent-teacher conferences can be positive and productive.

First, don't wait until the last minute to schedule a conference. Many parents only call me a few days before the grading period ends, when there isn't much that can be done to raise a grade.

To schedule a conference, talk to the teacher first--not the principal. There's no need to go over the teacher's head at this point--and don't expect much sympathy from the teacher if you do.

Be prepared to offer the teacher at least three definite times when you can meet. Because teachers often have meetings, workshops, supervision and other duties, it helps if you're flexible.

Ask the teacher to bring his or her grade book and samples of your child's work so that you'll have specific materials to talk about. This may also reveal some things your son or daughter "forgot" to tell you about.

Next, call the counseling office to request that a counselor attend the conference. This helps to ensure a calm, organized conversation. It also provides a witness if a confrontation develops.

If you'll be late or can't show at all, call. Teachers generally have more work to do than their preparation periods allow, so their time is valuable.

In most cases, it's better if the student is not present at the start of the conference. Children tend to act defensively and interrupt constantly. It's crucial that you and the teacher are free to form an honest rapport in an adult atmosphere, before the student joins you.

Brevity is also important. There's nothing more frustrating than a conference that ends with unfinished business. Bringing a list of your questions or concerns is a good way to tackle them efficiently.

I understand that it's difficult to listen objectively to criticism of a son or daughter, and it's easy to become a little defensive.

But don't fall into the trap of trying to excuse your child's problems by using some tired cliches that generally spell "denial" to most teachers.

For example, don't be too quick to blame the problem on a "personality conflict" between teacher and student. Teachers are generally committed to their work and experienced at dealing with all kinds of personalities.

Claiming that a teacher is simply "out to get" your child is also shaky. Believe me, teachers have far too many students and responsibilities to launch a calculated campaign against one student.

My personal favorite, though, is, "My child never lies." There has never been a child who has never lied. Claiming otherwise reduces your credibility.

Instead, be open-minded to the possibility that your child may display at school sides of his or her personality that are not usually seen at home.

In addition, ask the teacher for specific ways that you can help. Bear in mind that responsibility for your child's education does not rest solely with the teacher; you're an equal partner in the business.

Finally, no matter how angry or embarrassed you may be, don't resort to verbal abuse of the teacher. This may seem obvious, but some parents vent their parental frustrations by insulting, cursing and even threatening the teacher.

Be aware that some angry comments may carry legal implications that sensible teachers will enforce.

Instead, remember that the teacher simply wants to work toward the same goal you do: your child's success.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World