How to get the most from a parent-teacher conference

WASHINGTON — For most parents of schoolchildren, November is the month for parent-teacher conferences. They might be the best way for parents to get the word on how well their kids are doing in school, both academically and socially. And one educator has advice on how to get the most out of such meetings.

Ann Dolin, the president of Educational Connections Tutoring and a former public school teacher, told WTOP the most important things to remember is that you only have about 20 minutes, so it pays to be prepared, with your questions and concerns in writing. And be prepared to take notes, so you can remember what’s discussed later.

Dolin added that parents can help “drive a better meeting” by basing their comments on observations. For example, instead of saying, “You’re giving out too much homework,” it can be more effective to ask, “I’ve noticed that Bill has about an hour of math homework every night — should fourth-graders have this much homework?” Dolin said.

“Sometimes, teachers aren’t aware of what goes on at home, especially when it comes to homework.”

It’s also critical for parents to understand the root of any problems children might be having in school. Sometimes, Dolin said, it’s a problem specific to the subject material; sometimes, though, it’s about “executive functioning skills” — organization, time management and planning.

Once you’ve worked out which is the more pressing need to address, “You can then have a better, more informed conversation with the teacher.”

Dolin also advised parents of older kids to find out whether their school has a homework club or another way to meet with the teacher after school. Helping out with homework can be a pleasant task for parents of kids in the earlier grades; in high school, the subject matter gets more difficult, and the workload can take a toll on the relationship between parent and child.

It’s easy to go into a meeting feeling defensive or ready to accuse a teacher, Dolin said, but it’s important to remember that the teacher has “seen hundreds of kids over many years” and has a base to compare your kid to.

“I always revere the teacher and let her tell me what grade-level expectations are.”

The key is how your child is doing compared with other kids in the same grade, and the teacher has that kind of perspective.

“Once you have that information,” Dolin said, “it’s a little bit easier to find out how your child’s doing in the classroom, and what you can do to support your child going forward.”

Ken Duffy

Ken Duffy is a reporter and anchor at WTOP with more than 20 years of experience. He has reported from major events like the 2016 Democratic and Republican National Conventions, 2016 Election Night at Trump Headquarters in Midtown Manhattan and the 2007 Super Bowl in Miami.

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