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We attend parent-teacher consultations once a term and we sometimes come out feeling as if we've just received the the boilerplate script. Little X is doing fine, reaching all appropriate milestones etc. If we ask what we can do to at home it's usually "keep doing what you are" or "keep encouraging them", pretty vague.

I'm sure it's hard for teachers to come up with novel, useful feedback when they're doing a dozen kids' parents in an evening.

However, has anyone got any tips for how to maximise the usefulness of these 20 minute sessions? What kinds of things can we do to get the teacher to open up a bit more? What are the "killer" questions?

Kids are currently in first school.

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What is "first school"? –  HedgeMage Mar 31 '11 at 6:21
    
@HedgeMage primary school –  hawbsl Mar 31 '11 at 6:27
    
Thanks. –  HedgeMage Mar 31 '11 at 6:39
    
Edit was simply to add the tag "education" –  balanced mama Nov 1 '12 at 21:27

2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

During parent-teacher conferences, the teacher has only 20 minutes to go through everything the school requires them to cover (grades, milestones, whatever) and there's usually little or no time left for meaningful communication. One can only stretch the time so much before destroying the schedule (which parents make the effort to arrive for), so the teacher does it for the students who most need some sort of change.

So, the short answer is "don't expect anything meaningful from parent-teacher conference day". It's simply impractical given the format.

What you can do to get meaningful feedback from the teacher is to have contact frequently outside of the once or twice-yearly conference. Write a note, send an email, catch him/her at a school event. When you do communicate with the teacher, make sure to:

  • Have specific questions, and offer specific, concrete examples of anything that concerns you or goals you want to help your child reach. (If you don't want a boilerplate response, getting boilerplate questions to ask isn't the way to go.)

  • Make communicating with you as lightweight for the teacher as possible. Do what is convenient for him/her. You have one or a few kids to worry about -- he/she has dozens. Respect the teacher's time and he/she will notice.

  • Make sure the teacher has a chance to feel you out over several different occasions. A teacher can't give you information you will find valuable unless he/she understands what your parenting style is, and how you react to different types of presentation.

Finally, understand that not all teachers are big on parent communication. Some are just jaded, some can't be bothered, and others have bought into the social pressure against seeking to "fix what isn't broken" by looking for ways to enhance the education of students who aren't struggling.

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HedgeMage's answer is a good place to start with any teacher relationship, but the other thing is to know exactly what your objective is before going in. If you just want something a little more specific about your kid, this might not be the time to get it.

If you suspect there is something more to know that you are not getting told, you might ask something like, "What is your favorite part about working with __ and what is your least favorite part?"

If you have a specific concern, you need to address that concern. You might say something like, "we are concerned about performance in _, can we set up an appointment to discuss your ideas on that specifically with you?"

Good Luck.

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