Thursday, October 20, 2011

Parent-Teacher Conferences

In my previous life, I was a school psychologist. After completing my internship, I compiled a parent handbook for navigating the system and advocating for children. I got so frustrated when parents' concerns were dismissed because they didn't know how to speak in a way that would make educators listen.

Photo credit: evmaiden on Flickr

Here is a list of phrases that can sour your meetings with school professionals.

“He’s not being challenged.”                        This is frustrating for teachers. If your child is not performing well on current assignments, teachers are unlikely to consider a more challenging curriculum. If he is performing well, teachers are already aware of his potential.

“This is a special case.”                                We know. Every child with whom we work is a special case, that’s why we are involved in special education! Please don’t insult our experience.

“You can’t support her adequately.”            Again, this is insulting. Also, if you already know we can’t support your child, why are you at this meeting? This sets a negative tone and is likely to make the staff defensive and uncooperative.

“I can put him in public/private school.”       Is that a threat or a promise? If a situation has escalated to the point that you are seriously considering this option, the staff may secretly be hoping you follow through!

“No one understands/cares about her.”       No one working in schools is there for the money. It is certainly possible that some school professional dislikes your child, but in general, we are doing the best we can. We like children!

 “He would never do that.”                            Whatever “that” is, your child may well have done it.  Ask for more details rather than refusing to consider the possibility.

Try some of these phrases instead.

“I’d like to hear what you’re doing with her already to help.”
“What can we do at home to make this work?”
“What other information can I provide?”
“What opportunities are available for him?”
“She’s feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.”


  1. After being told as a student teacher that parents are the enemy (by my professors of Education and the school counselor), and after seeing how the teacher known for innovative use of unit studies as enrichment had been moved to the smallest classroom to remove her from the space that let her set up the unit study materials, and then the fun of listening to teachers blame my son when the problem was dyslexia and dysgraphia (I heard so often, OH, he couldn't need help because....). After spending from the kids getting home from school until 9 at night doing homework and teaching what the teachers failed to teach my kid when they had him ALL DAY I'm not very impressed with anything having to do with "communicating with teachers" I tried, I asked the above sort of questions, I even took a friend who is a school counselor with 30 some years experience to an ARD (she recommended I yank my kids from the school and teach at home because the counselor at the school was so sure the problem was my son and NOT the learning disabilities their person as well as an independent expert in the field (one who works for the local school systems sometimes!) said he did have and needed help for... We tried public, parochial, private... Well, I home school and unless life puts me in a bind where I have NO other choice no child of mine will go to any school before college ever again.

  2. Oh the above dislexic kid is off to college now that I taught him to read-- without ANY help from the schools that so let me down.

  3. @Ann: No question, the school system is broken, whether private or public. I am so sorry that your son had to suffer for so long because the professionals did not do their jobs. My husband and I have already decided we will home-school Peter, at least in the beginning, even though both my best friend and my mother-in-law are school teachers. I believe he will learn better at home.
    My posts on this topic are for parents who are unable or unwilling to home-school. I hope to give them tools to get the best services they can from a broken institution. These posts are not meant to promote traditional schooling.

  4. I know that there are excellent teachers out there. There are multiple teachers in every generation of my family, but most of us are totally disillusioned by the current system in place. My grandmother taught in a segregated black school, she earned $900 a YEAR and ALL her first graders came from dirt poor minority families and ALL learned the basics of reading and math. Teachers only needed 2 years of college to teach back then. Big classes, no money, few books, few supplies, tiny building, and 100% reading. I compare this to the much better paid teachers (4 or more years of college) of today working in a system with huge buildings smaller classes and lots and lots more money and supplies and books and see how few really literate people come out of the system in spite of the hard work of teachers. It is painful to see.

  5. Painful indeed. And it seems the more brilliant ideas the government develops to fix things, the worse it gets. I don't have any magic solutions myself, but my heart aches for the kids who suffer through 12+ years of schooling and come out with very little education.