Making the Most of a ‘Parent/Teacher Interview’

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As often happens, with the issue of report cards comes the invitation for a ‘parent/teacher interview’, either by way of a letter sent home with the student or by a notice on the school’s website (where formal scheduling often occurs).

These meetings in many jurisdictions are required by law, and must be held on a regular basis throughout the school year.

Quite a few parents look upon such meetings as largely uncharted territory, possibly meeting teachers for the first time while being somewhat reticent to discuss their child’s report card and standing, accompanied by feelings of protectiveness, distrust, and even intimidation. Seems only natural, given that the process has the appearance of being controlled by a professional of limited acquaintance, away from the home environment.

Approaching these occasions with such apprehension can amount to a loss of a very valuable opportunity, particularly for the student. Foregoing the interview is worse. How, then, should a parent maximize the benefit of (‘make the most of’) an interview?

Most teachers would emphasize inclusion of the student. As one educator put it, why leave out the most important party in the process? While there are exceptions, depending upon circumstances, this rings true.

Start the process at home with a careful, non-judgmental review of the report card that includes your child (see my recent blog on ‘report cards’). Be sure to frame the discussion properly, that is, positively, proactively, even going so far as to mention its importance as preparation for similarly positive interviews with the teachers who wrote the report card. Admittedly, the dialogue between parent and child can be pretty intimate and at times hit ‘close to home’, yet a thoughtful explanation as to ‘Why’ all this is happening is designed to enlist your child’s participation and support.

As part of key preparation, make notes, and add questions for the teacher to your notes. Avoid general or vague questions. Most interviews last 10 to 15 minutes, so there’s no time to wander or compare parents’ school experiences to what’s going on right now. The focus is on the student, with a minimum of ‘sugar coating’ during the discussion.

The Internet has plenty of lists of ‘do’s and don’t’s’ about parent/teacher interviews, quite a few from the teacher’s perspective. Look at where the teacher ideally should be coming from and how a parent should approach the process. For parents who are new to North American (Canadian) educational systems, (under ‘Education’) has 2 valuable introductory videos.

There is a temptation for parents to dwell on performance (achievement) rather than progress, which is only natural, since a report card principally is about performance. Certainly a necessary aspect, but after having engaged in an overview of the area, it seems to me that engaging the student and teacher in setting and planning goals for improvement (whatever the existing level of attainment) in specific areas (disciplines) is a genuine route to progress in learning (including results) and a better educational experience. This process (in essence, an ‘action plan’ that continually evolves) values the student as an individual, and looks to individual needs and requirements.

Parents and teachers continue to bear in mind the mutual wish of how we can have our student do better, whether in terms of remedial help or a desire to excel. Both participants need to be honest with themselves and openly candid with each other. A school program may have available help for the struggling student, and possibly an opportunity for enrichment, subject to necessarily finite resources. Parents should not hesitate to ask pointed questions about such resources, preferably after having accessed school websites to learn about their availability, specific approaches, and suitability.

Some also feel that asking about whether tutoring is a worthwhile option would offend a teacher (that is, be a not so veiled criticism of his or her teaching abilities). This is a truly unfortunate misconception. Book Smart Tutors ought not to be a ‘last straw’, but rather a welcome partner in a student’s journey towards consistent improvement and tangible, recognized achievement that pave the way to further educational opportunities. Early involvement by Book Smart can resolve emergent problems and prevent these from becoming persistent, and in fact tutoring does contribute to building productive attitudes, proper, effective learning, and patterns of success.

In the ‘parent/teacher interview’ (or in any meeting with a teacher), everyone is a stakeholder, plays a key role, and shares the important responsibility and mission of ensuring that the student progresses towards being the best that our youth can be. Participate fearlessly, informatively, collaboratively, and positively in your child’s future.

Robert MacFarlane is a graduate of Princeton University. He has tutored English and related subjects with Book Smart Tutors for over 5 years.