Tips for Parents to Prepare for Teacher Conferences

Include your child in the process and plan ahead

Teacher talking to parents at parent teacher conference
Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

It may seem that all you need to do to prepare for a parent-teacher conference is to show up at the right time, but to get the most out of the experience there's more for you to do. Even if your child is doing well in school, there are questions to ask and things you can do to prepare ahead of time.

Don't Wait Until the Last Minute to Schedule

Send back your conference request early. Usually, teachers will send home a parent conference form noting the time that they are available to meet.

If you're one of the first parents to send the form back, you're more likely to get a conference slot that you and your partner are both able to attend. Being there together sends a strong message to the teacher that both of you are interested in your child's education.

Find Out What the Conference Policy Is for Divorced Parents

Ascertain the school's policy about conferences for divorced parents. Though you and your ex-spouse may find it very uncomfortable to be in the same room together, during conferences teachers are often scheduled so tightly that they are unable to schedule separate conferences for each parent.

Make your best effort to attend together, but if you are unable to manage a civil parent-teacher conference or there are legal circumstances that make it impossible for the conference to be held with both of you, do let the teacher know. She may be able to conference with you at another time or via telephone.

Request More Time, If Warranted

Ask for a double conference block if you have issues that will take some time to address. Time is tight during parent-teacher conferences, and you'll often only have 15 or 20 minutes to talk. (In fact, many teachers actually use a kitchen timer to keep track!) If there are lengthy issues to address, be sure to ask for the extra time ahead of time.

Don't Forget to Include Your Child

Ask your child for his input. Kids get anxious when they know adults are talking about them. Giving your child an opportunity to tell you if he'd like you to ask certain questions or talk about specific things can ease his mind. Note: After the conference, be sure to debrief him so he knows what happened.

Show Up Prepared and With an Open Mind

Come prepared with a set of questions, a pen, and a notebook. There's little more frustrating than walking out the door and remembering all of the things you wanted to ask. Make sure to have those questions with you and write down the answers. That way you can refer to your notes later, either when talking to your child or if there is something you need to be clarified.

Stay positive and open-minded. You'll get better results asking why the teacher thinks your son is having trouble in math than telling her you to think she isn't teaching him the right way. If you're concerned about your child's interactions with other children, it's important not to assume the teacher isn't doing anything to address the concern. Jumping to conclusions or being defensive can put a teacher on the offense, so try to listen and respond respectfully.

Don't Leave Out Important Information About Your Home Life

Provide relevant information about what's going on at home. Relevant is the key word here. If your child is having trouble sleeping, if your living circumstances have changed or he's taking a new medication, the teacher probably ought to know because it can affect his learning.

Circumstances that may affect how he's acting and reacting are important to mention. It's certainly relevant to mention that you and your spouse are divorcing, but avoid providing details that the teacher doesn't need to know. It can make for an uncomfortable working relationship just when you need to be able to communicate with your child's teacher the most.

Ask for a Mediator, If Needed

Ask an administrator to join in if you and the teacher are having problems getting along. Sometimes you may need a neutral party to ensure that the conference does what it's supposed to--provide information about your child. Ideally, you and the teacher will also be able to find a way to work together for your child's sake.