What topics should you cover in your ninth-grader's parent-teacher conference? Here are some tips that experts suggest.
High school is the time when parents often feel their presence at parent-teacher conferences isn’t needed or valued, but high school is when grades start to count for college, career, and beyond. It’s important for you to continue to stay involved and engaged. As the school work gets more challenging, these meetings can be intimidating and overwhelming for parents. Try to remember that building a relationship through face-to-face meetings is an opportunity for both you and the teacher to partner to understand and support your child and his academic and social development. It is even more likely in high school than in middle school for your child to be invited to the conference, and you should encourage your child to join and participate in the discussion.
Most important question
Know what your most important question is going into the conference. This has never been more crucial than in high school. The teachers may have as many as 30 or 40 other students in the class and time is even more limited at these conferences. You want to make sure you get the main question answered. How is he doing? Is there anything I can do? Or anything I need to know?
Listen as much as you can. These conferences are likely to be very short and to the point on how your child is performing in this one specific subject, and you want to try to absorb as much as possible. You are likely to be going to six different classes, and you want to make sure you know how your child is performing in all of them. Take notes. You may even want to ask to record the conversation so you remember everything correctly after the meeting.
Time spent on class each night
Ask the teacher how much time your child should be spending on his class per night. In high school, parents are often less aware than in middle or elementary school of what is needed for homework. Ask how long it should be taking your child to complete homework at night, and compare that with how long it is actually taking him. If the time is significantly longer, it may signal a problem with the class or understanding. If the time is shorter, and your child’s grades are good, it may be a sign that your child is ready for more advanced work.
Ask about work completion. As in middle school, you want to ask your child’s teacher if he is turning his work in on time and if he is completing the assignments. This is especially important in the first year of high school, as your child transitions to an even more rigorous workload than in middle school. Developing time-management skills that will be crucial in high school and beyond will help the transition go smoothly and prepare your child for the years that follow.
Extracurricular activities and schoolwork
Ask about extracurricular activities and schoolwork. In high school, students often take on more extracurricular activities, and it is important to ask the teacher if your child appears to have enough time to devote to school time. Is he racing to complete assignments the morning after a big game or school play? Does the quality of his schoolwork suffer when he spends extra time volunteering? While extracurricular activities are important to building your child’s secondary education applications and contribute to a well-rounded young adult, they shouldn’t come at the expense of his grades.
Career or college
Ask what sort of career or college the teacher thinks your child will be successful in. As you and your child start to think about life beyond high school, teachers can offer valuable insight into how prepared your child is to handle advanced workflow and time management, whether your child is preparing for a 4-year-university, vocational school, or the workforce.
The first and most important step is your involvement. Attending the conference is essential to building a relationship with your child’s teacher, and opening lines of communication will show the school and your child that you care and are involved in his education. The act of attending meetings with your child’s teacher sends a message to your child that education is important. Building a partnership with your child’s teacher is a great way for both of you to support your child and each other. Conferences are also a good place to hear about any behavioral issues or learning difficulties that the teacher may notice, and it’s best to know of those concerns as soon as possible. If one parent or guardian can’t attend, ask the teacher ahead of time about arranging for a Skype or speaker-phone call, so everyone can be involved.
Be prepared for the meeting. Part of being prepared is knowing your child’s grades in advance of your meeting. Many teachers will have a website where you can check grades, assignments and tests. You may also want to look at the expectations for students at your child’s grade level, so you can discuss these with the teacher. You could consult our academic benchmarks or your local school’s website for a background on what your child should be learning. Ask your child beforehand how he thinks he’s doing in class and if he has any concerns.
Be on time
Be on time. Depending on your child’s age and number of teachers, you may have anywhere from 5-20 minutes for the conference. Your time with the teacher is therefore limited and you should try to make the most of it. Try to keep in mind you are not the only parent the teacher is meeting with, and try to stay within your allotted time.
Bring questions. It helps to write your thoughts down so you make sure you get to everything you’d like to cover. Because time is so limited, before you go into the meeting, prioritize what is on top of your list to address with the teacher. For example, you may want to know how your child is performing compared to her peers, or if there’s a particular subject where improvement is needed. Also, you should take notes during the meeting.
Let the teacher know you value her time and treat her with respect. Most conferences are held over the course of a day or two—meaning your child’s teacher will be in back-to-back meetings during this time. Each family has different concerns and questions for the teacher and it’s a long day. Try not to get offended or angry if she delivers bad news. Listen first, then talk. Thank the teacher for bringing up a problem and discuss ways in which you can solve it together. A good parent-teacher relationship can help everyone better support your child’s learning.
Behavior at home
Bring up anything that is happening at home that could affect your child’s behavior, learning, or participation in class. A divorce, illness or death in the family or of a family pet, financial issues, or other disruptions to your routine could all have an impact on your child.
Communication going forward
Arrange a way to communicate going forward. Ask whether the teacher’s preferred method of communication is phone calls, emails or continued meetings. You should let it be known that you plan to be an active participant in your child’s academic achievement and you are available for further discussions. Your partnership with your child's teacher is most beneficial if it continues through the year, so you should maintain a relationship beyond the initial conference. This will help identify potential issues in your child’s learning or behavior and will make both you and the teacher feel comfortable bringing up ways to support your child’s education all year.
Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Michele Borba, Author and Educational Psychologist; Laurie Curtis, Retired Assistant Professor, Kansas State University; Doug Fiore, President, Mercy College of Health Sciences; Pamela Mason, Program Director/Lecturer on Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education; and Pat Tanner Nelson, Retired Human Development & Family Studies Professor, University of Delaware.