Homeroom: I’m Dreading Parent-Teacher-Conference Day

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Editor’s Note: Every Tuesday, Abby Freireich and Brian Platzer take questions from readers about their kids’ education. Have one? Email them at homeroom@theatlantic.com.

Dear Abby and Brian,

Parent-teacher-conference day is coming up, and I’m dreading it. To be fair, I dread it every year. I feel like it’s my annual performance review, but with my son. And this year it’s over Zoom, which will make it even worse because I won’t be able to read the teacher’s body language as easily. My son is in fifth grade. He’s a good kid and an average or maybe above-average student, and I get so upset when I hear negative things about him, because I feel that I’m being judged. I also find it pointless when teachers talk about the curriculum. By the third or fourth quarter of the year, I know it already or don’t care. Do you, as teachers, have advice on how to make the most of these conferences—or at least make them less terrible?

Henderson, Nevada

Dear Geoff,

Parent-teacher conferences can be nerve-racking for both parents and teachers, not to mention the kids who are being discussed. But although these feelings are understandable, we recommend you try to table your dread and approach the meeting as an opportunity—to learn more about your son, to ask specific questions that will help you gain insight into his strengths and challenges, and to find ways to work with the teacher to support him.

This means you need to do your own homework: Prepare for the conference by developing a list of questions you have about how your son is doing. Review the comments and grades on his report card and incorporate what he’s mentioned to you about specific classes. If he says that math is easy but he’s getting C’s, you will want to talk with his teacher to identify the source of this disparity. Is he unmotivated? Rushing through his work? Or is he genuinely struggling with a subject matter he thinks he is good at? If he’s having a hard time in English, try to find out whether he’s nailing the vocabulary quizzes and handing in his work on time but having trouble following the plot of Wonder. In each case, you can ask the teacher what he or she recommends in terms of how to help your son do better with the work.

Additionally, parent-teacher conferences can give parents a window into their child’s life outside of academics—how he or she is faring socially at school. Whom does your son hang out with? How does he usually spend his time in recess? With this information, you will be able to better understand his friendships, talk with him about potential difficulties he may be having, and coach him through fostering new relationships.

You should also use the conference as a time to find out if behaviors you’ve noticed at home are also occurring at school. For example, if your son is anxious at home, his teachers will be able to discuss with you whether they’ve noticed that at school, and provide advice for how to reduce his worries. Or if your son tends to race through his homework, the teacher can share strategies that have been effective in the classroom. Whatever the issue, knowing the specific strategies that teachers are using will enable you to double down on them at home.

Remember that even if these meetings can sometimes feel like a performance review, that’s very much not what it is. Parent-teacher conferences are a chance to learn more about how your child is doing in a setting that you don’t get to see for yourself. With these insights into your child as a student, a classmate, and a friend, you will be better equipped to understand and support him both inside and outside the classroom.

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