Valley Voices

Parents, want teacher conferences to go well? Here’s good advice

Students work from a variety of different seat choices in Brenda McLain’s fourth grade classroom at McCardle Elementary School in Fresno.
Students work from a variety of different seat choices in Brenda McLain’s fourth grade classroom at McCardle Elementary School in Fresno. Fresno Bee file

October can get spooky. Right around the same time we get trick-or-treat candy, many of us have parent-teacher conferences to contend with. Some of us get excited about one-on-one time with educators while others get freaked out.

The first time I walked into a parent-teacher conference (a few years ago), I was scared. (What-if-everything-goes-awry?!) Now, I think they’re fun: The opportunity to get my kid on track (and make sure she’s staying there) is a powerful and positive thing.

Jill Simonian Special to The Bee Fresno

My mom was a teacher. My sister is a teacher. My dad’s mom was even a teacher. To say that I’ve grown up hyper conscious about what kind of first impression I give to my kid’s teacher is a wild understatement. Let’s just say I’ve heard all sorts of tales about how parents “forget” to show up at conferences, how some make excuses (if and when the teacher cites something the child might need to work on at home — whether it be behavior-wise or academically) and how some have delusional, perceived authority to tell an educator how to do his/her job (when that parent has not even been inside the classroom to witness what happens firsthand).

Parents, I love us … but some of us need to get a grip. None of our children are flawless. I’ve even prodded some of my own kids’ teachers to tell me what we need to improve at home to help them succeed and make their classroom run more smoothly. (Yes, it’s the teacher’s classroom.) Educators know one side of our kids and we know another side. It’s up to us to turn these brief meetings into solution-oriented chats to keep us forward-moving and improving. We just need to check our egos.

Some quick reminders before tackling touchy subjects with teachers:

▪ Show up. (Let’s just say ditching or forgetting when the conference is does not do a child any favors.)

▪ Parents and teachers are on the same team -- don’t bring preconceived drama to the meeting.

▪ Listen respectfully, even if your child’s teacher offers surprises related to behavior or classroom habits.

▪ Ask what you can do at home to solve issues or trouble spots happening in class.

▪ Offer information about any drastic changes/issues at home -- a pending divorce, sibling problems, health/sleep/eating issues. Yes, all these things affect a kid’s ability to learn, and requesting confidentiality is absolutely acceptable.

▪ Watch your language. “I know you’ve been teaching for a long time, but I don’t think you understand.” The word “but” can accidentally put someone on the defense.

▪ Commit to follow-up. Don’t let the parent-teacher conference be the only time you connect with your child’s teacher.

You’re more than welcome to applaud or boo me. (As a nonteacher, I probably have more empathy and passion for this topic than I should.) Research finds that family involvement linked to learning leads to bigger success at school -- our kids, teachers, schools and communities depend on us, the parents. We are the glue, whether we like it or not.

Because a child with a parent who refuses to believe and/or solve issues openly with a teacher (for the long-term good of their kid’s development) is a very scary situation indeed.

Jill Simonian was born and raised in Fresno and is creator of She is author of 'The FAB Mom's Guide: How to Get Over the Bump & Bounce Back Fast After Baby' for first-time pregnancy. Connect with Jill on Facebook and Instagram @jillsimonian