Parent-teacher meetings can be nerve-racking, and for good reason: Unlike Back-to-School Night events, meetings are not informal meet-and-greets organized by the school. Usually they are the result of ongoing challenges with a student’s behavior or academic performance.
It’s unlikely that you’ll ever be excited to meet with parents under these circumstances, but with a little planning and a positive attitude, these get-togethers can be relatively painless and extremely productive.
To help you prepare for your first parent-teacher meeting, we’d like to share a few tips from Donna Tileston’s book, What Every Teacher Should Know About the Profession and Politics of Teaching.
Preparing for the parent-teacher meeting
- Most parents and guardians work during the day, so you should plan on staying after school to meet with them. Avoid setting a rigid timeframe around your schedule and find a time that is convenient for parents. If parents are open to it, you might even offer to meet at their home.
- Most of us like surprises, but not when we know the news is going to be unpleasant. Let parents know ahead of time what you wish to discuss and what your concerns are.
- Ensure that all of your concerns can be verified. “I think” does not work well in parent conferences.
- Gather data, records, notes, grades, test results, and any other information that applies to the conference.
- If you plan to make recommendations for special services for the student, be sure to have the appropriate paperwork and guidelines. It would also be wise to invite the person in charge of special services. Again, be sure to inform the parents about your plans before the meeting happens.
- Your student will eventually find out that you are meeting with his or her parents, so it’s best that s/he find out from you. Be brief and tactful.
- If you are meeting in your classroom, make special accommodations for adults. Avoid having parents sit in tiny chairs or student desks.
Conducting the parent-teacher meeting
- Most parents will be coming directly from work to this meeting. Offering them a beverage or small snack is a kind and welcoming gesture that may help take the edge off.
- Avoid using teacher jargon—“an inch wide and a mile deep,” “depth of knowledge,” “building conceptual understanding,” and so on. This type of language is vague, esoteric, and means very little to parents.
- Listen more than you speak.
- You may see all the signs suggesting that your student has special needs, but avoid making any diagnosis. You’re a teacher, not a doctor.
- Do not compare the child to his or her peers, even if you are praising the student.
- Keep in mind that parents have a right to be skeptical. Do not get defensive if they ask you questions like, “How do you know?” or “That’s not what s/he told me!”
- Collaborate with parents to come up with a plan of action and put it in writing.
- Following the meeting, call or email your student’s parents to thank them for coming to the meeting. And don’t forget to continue giving them updates on your student’s progress.