As an educator working in a public school system, one of my least favorite times of the year was parent-teacher conferences.

Sometimes my interactions with parents left me a nervous mess; I now know why we give teachers the day off after conferences. More often than not, the conference ended up quickly dissolving into either a blame-filled rant, a foray into a parent’s personal life or a complete lack of understanding of academic expectations.

I know most parents are well-intentioned when it comes to their child’s education, so I gathered up a few thoughts from past conferences to help guide both parent and instructor on this educational expedition.

1. Write down your questions. Before you meet with your child’s teacher, prepare a list of questions for yourself. I know sometimes when I get in a situation where I may become nervous or forgetful — during my OBGYN visits or a meeting with my superior, for example — I forget what it was I really wanted or needed to ask. Taking a moment to create a list ahead of time helps curb the nervousness and leaves me feeling accomplished. Some questions to consider discussing with your child’s teacher:

• What are my child’s academic talents?

• Is my child working to their ability?

• How much time should my child spend on homework?

• What can we do to improve areas where my child is struggling?

• What can I do at home to support my child?

2. Stick to the topic — your child. While I feel it is important to develop a rapport with your child’s teacher, make sure the topic of conversation is your child and not extraneous issues. Teachers are on a limited schedule, so be cognizant of the time allotted. Also, make the best of your time. If it’s a policy and procedures question that can be answered in the school’s handbook or website, try and avoid making it the topic of conversation.

3. Try not to get defensive. I once had a parent tell me if I hadn’t selected such boring materials (Shakespeare), then her daughter would be passing my class. At this point in the conversation, I knew I had lost the parent and no amount of rationalization or defense of my curriculum was going to make her see my side. It can be hard for us as parents to hear anything negative about our children (guilty). However, the point of these conferences is to find areas where our children have room to develop and create a plan of action. Becoming defensive at less than desirable news will create more problems than solutions.

4. Leave with a plan of action. Come prepared. Bring along a notebook and pen to write down any important information that you may forget later. This may include the best contact information and availability for the teacher, the strategies and explanations the instructor provided, suggestions for supporting your child at home and any additional questions you may have during the conference.

5. Talk to your child. The most important person in this conversation is your kiddo. Make sure you take the time to debrief with them about the positives of the conference, as well as the plan to remedy any obstacles moving forward. This lets them know you are there to support them in their academic endeavors.

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Shea Saladee lives in Papillion with her husband, Brent, and their three children. She works as the Theatre Department Chair at Iowa Western Community College.

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