When Shala Stevenson heads March 13 to Central Junior High School for parent-teacher conferences, she’ll know what to expect in more ways than one.
Thanks to e-mail and the Skyward Family Access program — which allows parents a chance to look at grades and test scores online — she already knows exactly how her daughter Sameah is doing in her eighth-grade courses as well as what each teacher thinks of her daughter as a student.
But she says, there’s nothing like seeing Sameah interact first-hand with the adults she is with each day.
“I’ve always taken my kid with me, because I like to see her interaction with the teacher. I can tell who she likes and whose class she’s doing well in,” Stevenson says. “I e-mail the teachers all the time. I feel like I already know what’s happening to my student before I get there. That’s why I bring her, it’s an opportunity for her to show me what her relationship with her teacher is like. I know what my relationship with her teacher is like.”
In the electronic age, parent-teacher conferences may seem a bit old-fashioned, but to Lawrence parents, teachers and students, there’s just something about getting some face time.
A day of dashing around
When Diane Knapp made the jump to junior high conferences with daughter Morgan this year, she learned she was going to have to work to get the most out of that face time. Instead of the 20 minutes or so she gets with her other daughters’ elementary school teachers, she had to create a gameplan to make sure and see all of Morgan’s teachers at Southwest Junior High.
“It’s kind of this system where you run from door to door to door and sign your name up on slots and then try to do it in a way that you can get from that side of the building around,” Knapp says. “It’s a lot of strategizing to get to the core teachers and the classes that ... you have the most concerns with or that you’re the most happy with to get positive feedback too.”
From a teacher’s perspective, parent-teacher conferences can be just as grueling. But Carol McFall, a South Junior High School geography and English teacher, says it’s worth the effort on everyone’s part.
Still, McFall says many parents don’t think junior high conferences are as important as those held when students are in elementary school. But because students have multiple teachers, McFall says talking to the parents of junior high school students may be even more important. Yet, she sees fewer than half the parents of her students.
“Because we see them fewer minutes than the elementary teachers did, we need insights from the people who know these kids the best,” she says.
For students, conference time can stir emotions that run the spectrum. Rebecca Church, a seventh grader at Southwest, calls the whole thing “stressful.”
“Because your parents expect you to be all talkative when I’m not,” she says. “You have to go, or at least that was the case in elementary school, I’m not sure about junior high yet.”
Adds Sameah Stevenson: “It’s sort of weird to hear them talk about me while I’m there, like as if I’m not. It gives me a really good idea of what they think of me as a student. It tells me really what I need to work on in the classroom. What I’m doing well at. I guess it helps me with my class work.”
Aly Beery, who teaches communication and English classes at West Junior High School, says conferences make teachers evaluate their own performance, too.
“Conferences force me to stop, step back and reflect on my students’ strengths and areas that may need improvement,” she says. “It’s a chance for me to ask myself hard questions about my own performance as well. As teachers, we should be reflecting all the time, but the reality is that sometimes we don’t do it enough.”
Tips for parents to prepare for conferences
Some tips for parents before conferences with teachers, according to the Kansas National Education Association:
• Ask your child for his/her opinion on how school is going. Compare his/her views with the teacher’s evaluation during the conferences. Any misperceptions your child has could lead to significant surprises when report cards arrive.
• Write down your questions in advance to keep the conference on track and professional.
• If possible, both parents should attend. Having both present builds a stronger partnership and better communication between home and school. If one parent can’t attend, be sure the other one writes down any concerns to raise during the conference.
• Communicate any goals and expectations you have for your child with the teacher.
• If the teacher says something you don’t understand, ask. Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t understand education terminology.
• Ask questions about your child’s academic work and social skills. These areas are important. From there, ask about specifics on curriculum, grading, discipline policies and procedures, homework expectations and special projects.
• Find out what you as a parent can do at home to help your child do well at school. Before you leave, summarize the plans you and the teacher made to help your child. This eliminates the chance of misunderstanding.
• Remember to be on time, and recognize the time limitations at conferences. If you need more time, arrange for it at a later date.
• Be positive. Approach the conference with a cooperative attitude.