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Key Ingredients of the Parent-Teacher Conference

Recently, parents sat down with their child’s teacher for parent-teacher conferences. I believe there are three main ingredients of any successful parent/teacher interaction, especially a conference like this. I ask the teachers to articulate: that they know the child as an individual, that they “like” the child, and that they recognize the child’s areas for growth and a plan for improving the child’s success in those areas.

The teacher who knows your child as an individual recognizes his or her academic aptitude, approach to challenge, social-emotional vicissitudes, and many, many other personal qualities. In short, in the conference parents receive a picture of their child as a member of the classroom community and as a student of their new grade.

This picture may differ quite a bit from what they see at home, and from the child they’ve heard about in prior years. One of the most interesting parts of my time in schools has been seeing how children develop “school personas.” They are incredibly adaptable and versatile, changing all the time. To this end, they interpret very quickly how they should act in school (in most cases), and how they should work to meet their new teachers’ expectations. As a result, parents may at times hear about an entirely different child from the one they see at home. Do not fret or despair. I feel strongly that this shows important flexibility, and that is most often a positive thing.

The second concept, “liking” your child, is critical, as we would all agree. When a mutual comfort exists between teacher and student, the educational experience is maximized, and that connection helps immeasurably when an issue arises. It’s probably also misstated somewhat—we’re not expecting that teacher and student will be “buddies.” It’s more precise to say that teachers work to “appreciate” your child for who they are. We rejoice in the unique ways the child approaches a social or academic situation; we understand the child’s sense of humor; we can anticipate things that might frustrate or disappoint the child. It’s also important to note that this picture is evolving over time; after two months in the classroom, as a child has worked to develop a school persona, we as teachers may not yet have fully grasped his or her inner workings. We use the conference, of course, to share our impressions but also to learn from the parents and gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the child.

The last ingredient is, I think, the most important. Children are very complex beings and bring to school a great range of skills. We want success for the child, to be sure, but we also see the value of challenge and struggle on the way to success. It’s likely that some things come easily to any given child; it’s as likely that there are areas that require much more effort. Identifying these areas is the key part of our work in the first few months of school; it is where child, teacher, and parent should put our main focus.