Working together to ensure success.
As a mother of three, Anne MacNeill’s advice to other parents is to always attend parent-teacher interviews.
“It’s important for parents to meet their child’s teacher in order to establish a rapport as well as to let the teacher know that the parent cares about how their child is doing at school,” says MacNeill, who is active on the school council as well as being a school volunteer. “The five to ten minutes that you have is not a lot of time, but you do get a good sense of the teacher’s approach.”
MacNeill says that it’s important to attend even if your child is doing well. She wants the teacher to know that they can call her anytime if there are concerns.
Judy Mather, an elementary school teacher, agrees. “We like to get to know the parents early on,” says Mather, who has taught for 35 years. “We have an open house and BBQ during the second week of school, when the classrooms are decorated with artwork and displays. Then we have more formal parent interviews or conferences, as I prefer to call them, when the progress reports go out.”
Mather says she also involves the students in the meeting. “I include the students so that it is more of a child-driven talk, rather than an interview,” she continues. “Parents have the most insight into their own children and they need to be on board.”
During the talk, says Mather, “I like to reinforce the activities that can be done at home, such as reading or practising math skills. Every child has something to do to move forward.”
Mather says that some parents may be reluctant to come into the school because of a negative childhood experience. “I’m easy going, and try to make it comfortable for everyone – we always have food and sit around a table,” says Mather.
Don’t stop in high school
At the secondary level, some parents become less involved with the school. Their kids may not want them to come to teacher interviews or the parents feel that if there isn’t a problem, there’s no need to talk to the teacher. MacNeill disagrees.
“I think it’s just as important, or more so, to know your child’s teachers in high school,” she says. “Some kids don’t communicate much with their parents so you might not know what’s happening at school. Talking to the teachers can help to fill in the gaps.” You might just find out something surprising. For instance, “I learned that my son is a chatterbox there, whereas at home he’s very quiet.”
Interviews are also important from the teacher’s perspective. They allow teachers to put a face to a name, according to Andrew Bigg, a secondary school teacher with 20 years experience. “I like to meet the parents and let them know that we are both on the same side, wanting to see the success of their child.”
By the time the interviews are held, the teacher usually has a good idea about the learning skills, strengths and weaknesses of the students, says Bigg. “It’s good for the parents to hear nice things about their child, as well as to know about any areas that need work. It’s still early days at that point when it can make a difference if extra help is required.”
Bigg says that he also gives parents information about upcoming projects and regular assignments. That way, parents can remind students about what’s expected if they say they have no homework.
When parents and teachers work together, students can flourish.
Questions to Ask
Here are sample questions to ask during your parent-teacher interview. You’ll want to tailor these questions to your child’s situation and educational level.
Since interviews are usually time-limited, it’s important to make the most of the time you have and be respectful of parents who are waiting for their turn.
- How is my child doing overall?
- What are my child’s strengths?
- Are there any areas he/she should be focusing on for improvement?
- What assignments are coming up and what are your expectations for the work required?
- What can I be doing at home to support my child’s learning?