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Middle school parent-teacher conference guide: Find out what you need to know

Here's how you can be prepared for your middle schooler's parent-teacher conference.

Want to be prepared for your parent-teacher conference in middle school? Here are some tips that experts suggest.

The biggest difference between elementary and middle school conferences will be the pace of the discussion. You will have less time with teachers in middle school than in elementary school. Depending on your child’s middle school, he could have from two to six different teachers. You will likely have to go from room to room to meet and talk with each teacher. This is around when parents often stop attending the meetings. Try to keep in mind the importance of establishing a good rapport and opening lines of communication with your child’s teacher, as you may have done in elementary school. It is still important for you to attend the conference.

Strengths and weaknesses

You should be able to get more specific insight into your child’s strengths and weaknesses by subject. Since your child will most likely have a different teacher for each subject, the teacher will have a good sense of how your child is performing in that particular class. You may find that he is excelling in math but falling behind in reading. This can help you target your learning reinforcement at home, or find tutors specific to a subject.

Ask about homework

Ask your child’s teacher about homework and assignments specific to the class. Homework really goes up a notch in middle school and the teacher should be able to tell you how your child is doing with independent work, time management, and organization. Is he turning assignments and papers in on time? Does he wait until the last minute or does he have a good plan for getting everything done? Middle school is the time when your child will be taking more personal responsibility and it’s important to ask if he is meeting those challenges.

Less holistic view than elementary

You should expect a less holistic view of your child than in elementary school. Since the teacher does not spend the entire day with your child, she will only know how he is doing in her class, and may not have an overall view of his performance. This is one of the main differences between elementary school and middle school.

Social and emotional concerns

You should still ask about social and emotional concerns. In middle school, your child will be going through a lot of changes physically and socially. How does he get along with his classmates? Is he being bullied or bullying other students? By speaking to each teacher, you may discover similarities across all the classes and be better able to identify any areas of concern.

Inviting students

In middle school, students often begin to be invited to parent-teacher conferences. If your child is invited, bring him along and ask him to contribute to the conversation. This is a good way to show you are all involved and have the same goals – to get the most out of your child’s time at school and ensure the best academic achievement he can.

Ask the right questions

Teachers can be great resources, if you ask the right questions. If your child needs extra help in one subject, his teacher may be able to suggest former students who would make good tutors. The teacher may also know of other resources – like clubs or study groups—that may help your child.

Parental involvement

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 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.

Be prepared

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.

Bring questions

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.

Be respectful

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.