Parent-Teacher Conferences: Wisdom and Thoughts

my sub agenda, Friday before conferences
Kayhi had its first parent-teacher conferences of the year on Monday and Tuesday two weeks ago. I had an overall good experience, switching between the tables of my three mentor teachers, and visiting with other teachers besides.

For the most part, I merely introduced myself and then listened: As a student teacher, I do know many of my students well enough to comment on how they're doing, but I'm not in charge of any classroom, and I've only led a few lessons so far. Perhaps during conferences next quarter I'll be a more relevant person for parents to talk to.

Nevertheless, I do have some thoughts and would-be words of wisdom to share.

Here are some things I gleaned from teachers:

It's good to come up with a variety of ways to tell parents that you value their children being in your class. If you compliment the student first, parents will be much more willing to hear any criticism you have.

This is my paraphrase of the original advice, and it does make two important points, although, as I pointed out to the teacher, you could pay the same compliments to every student and the parents would hardly know. (They'd have to talk to each other.)

Conferences are a little like poker, since you need to read parents' (and students') attitudes as you talk to them.

Again this is my paraphrase, as written in my notes from the conferences. I noticed the poker dynamic at play as soon as teachers broached any sort of problem areas or criticisms: The teacher had to gauge in real time how the parent would take their comments—badly, suspiciously, agreeably, or even over-eagerly. There was one instance where the teacher felt the parent was over-eager with criticizing their child, and he intervened with more compliments.

While I was waiting and listening, I developed and refined what I call my general maxim of parent-teacher conferences. I ran it by a few teachers, and most of them agreed with me:

The parents you see the most are the parents you need to see the least.

Or, alternately—the parents you see the least are the parents you need to see the most.

This concept may need no explanation, but suffice it to say that the students whose parents are proactive enough to come to conferences are mostly the students who do very well in class. I think most teachers would love to be able to spend time with all their students' families, especially the students they understand the least.

As a follow-up thought, I think it would be great to have "teacher-student conferences" as well. These, obviously, should occur within school hours, so there wouldn't be an attendance problem. I just think it's a pity for a teacher not to spend at least a tiny bit of one-on-one time with every student, getting to know them, evaluate them, or hear their thoughts in private—even for a small amount of time. Of course, regular classroom situations don't provide many chances for things like "teacher-student conferences" to occur, but maybe my position as a student teacher could make them a possibility, if only for a year.