Wednesday, October 27, 2004


It’s parent-teacher conference time, a chance for both sides to do a little teaching and a little learning.

A quality school will have already sent home a note giving parents advance notice of what each teacher will be covering. There should be an opportunity for each parent to give the teacher a heads-up in advance of specific concerns or questions.

But if your child doesn’t go to a school that fosters good communication like that, you can be a ‘’do-it-yourselfer.’’ Come to the conference with two or three issues you want to address, and ask the teacher to reserve a little time for you to go over them. Remember never to criticize or scold the teacher; instead, ask questions and seek advice on how you can mutually solve any problems that are occurring.

Your two or three issues don’t have to do with your child’s progress, either: you might have a question on how the school is cracking down on Internet plagiarism, or how come there were two drug busts in the school but there was nothing about it in the paper, or how many of the kids who got 4’s and 5’s on the Advanced Placement calculus test last spring had outside math tutors, if you’re thinking of getting one for your high-school student . . . you know, if your child is doing well, skip the formal, artificial stuff, and get into real communicating, and both you and the teacher will gain from it.

Just arriving . . . on time . . . with no alcohol on your breath . . . will exceed the expectations of many teachers. See? It’s easy to do this right! But it’s a great idea to take down brief notes, and be sure and shake the teacher’s hand coming and going, smile, and be a day-brightener as much as you can.

Being a ‘’no show’’ at conferences can’t help but hurt that teacher’s feelings, and his or her perceptions about your child and the priority your family puts on education. It’s as much of a faux pas as failing to vote.

As for teachers, if you refrain from using ‘’edubabble’’ and instead focus on conveying the meaning of what you are saying, as clearly and efficiently as you can, you will exceed most parents’ expectations. I’d say the No. 1 reason parents stay away from conferences is that too many teachers talk down to them, are perceived as being mean to their child, or are so mired in their own professional jargon that they can’t get their points across to the average Joe . . . which, after all, is the whole point of this meeting. The only way to repair that kind of wound is to meet face-to-face and try to deal with it . . . not stay away and whine.

Both sides remember the 80-20 rule -- try to listen for 80 percent of the time, and talk for 20 percent of the time. Then maybe important things will be said . . . and more importantly, heard.

Here’s more advice from my series, ‘’Show ‘n’ Tell for Parents.’’

Q. How can I get the most out of my upcoming parent-teacher conference?

Meet the teacher as early in the school year as you can. Don’t wait for the formal conference to start building a relationship.

Schedule an appointment or drop by on an “inservice” day, or stop in before or after school.

Keep your visit really short. Tell the teacher you would welcome phone calls and notes sent home.

A quick phone call in the first couple of weeks of school can be a good bridge-builder and time saver, too.

Keep all input to your child’s teachers at least 80% positive. Why? Because teachers get a lot of negative input. Be a friend and a shining light.

When the formal conference is scheduled, be sure to conference with your child first. What’s going well? What’s not? What is the teacher likely to say? Is anything or anybody bothering your child? What or who is helping, or not? What suggestions might work?

Come prepared with your own agenda to talk about. Use the “rule of three.” Come up with three issues and stick to them.

At a bare minimum, you should leave the conference knowing at what grade level your child functions in math and reading.

Both mom and dad should attend. If the other parent isn’t available, bring a grandparent or an adult friend.

But don’t bring your child if you want honest input. This is a performance evaluation between adults.

Words teachers love: “cooperate,” “help,” “create,” “innovate,” “adapt,” “make it easier.” Words they hate: “bored,” “forced,” “stupid,” “you’re not doing enough.”

Look the teacher in the eye a lot. Smile. Nod your head. Lean toward him or her.

Follow up with a thank-you note and any additional information or feedback the teacher has requested.

Bottom line: go by the Golden Rule. Make the teacher your friend . . . because the teacher is.

Homework: “Getting the Best Education for Your Child: A Parent’s Checklist,” James Keogh, Fawcett Columbine, 1996.

Be sure to visit my feature blog, http://www.DailySusan.blogspot.com, for a series of stories this week about the expanded gambling measures that are on the Nov. 2 ballot in Nebraska, and the impact that would have on our state.

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