For most of the country, Labor Day weekend signifies the last hurrah of summer and the beginning of a new school year. Whatever your child's age, butterflies are all aflutter, new haircuts abound and another grade older means new subjects that will be both challenging and rewarding.
Once children are settled into a routine, parent-teacher conferences will make their way onto your calendar. Walking into the classroom prepared for this important chat will make for a smooth conference that will be educational for you and your child's teacher. Here are some tips to help you navigate the process:
Your Child's Academic Abilities
It's hard to assess what kind of student your kindergartner is at 5 or where he or she will be at 15. However, taking the temperature of his or her academic abilities at the beginning of the school year can pave the way for seeing which areas need a little boost or which ones need to be more challenging.
Hollye Grayson, M.A., MFT, believes knowing as much upfront as possible will lead to an easier transition, as subject matters become more detailed throughout the school year. "Don't wing it -- go into your parent-teacher conference with a list of concerns or questions," Grayson says. "This is your opportunity to have the teacher's full attention. Ask which method of communication he or she prefers -- email, phone call -- and the time of day it is best to reach him or her. Make a mental note of when the teacher returns calls or emails so that you won't panic should you have a serious issue to address."
Expectations for the Year
It doesn't matter if your child is in first grade or tenth grade, discussing the teacher's goals for the year is a significant part of parent-teacher conferences. Getting an overview of the curriculum will help you and your child organize, manage time and structure after-school activities. Sometimes you will receive the information during back-to-school night. Your parent-teacher conference, however, gives you the opportunity to ask specific questions and find out additional details.
It's hard to know what our children are like when they're not under our own microscopes. Ask the teacher how your child gets along with others -- does he or she have friends to sit with at lunch or is he or she isolated on the playground? It's also a good idea to find out Does your child seem to prefer talking to one person or many simultaneously?
This topic goes hand-in-hand with the social aspect of school. What are they like in a classroom? Do they raise their hand, ask for help and listen when the teacher talks?
"Children are different in school than they are at home, but they equally test out new behaviors in both settings," Grayson says. "While at the same time, it's important your child is being respectful to the teachers and other students, it is also a good idea to find out whether your child is getting involved in the community or if there are cases of withdrawal or inappropriate behavior."
Inappropriate classroom behavior can be a red flag for something else that is going on, whether at school or at home. If you discover your child is misbehaving in some form, work with the teacher to dig deeper -- is there an academic issue you are not aware of? Is your child being bullied? Is there something going on at home that needs to be discussed?
Social Media Usage
For middle-school and high-school parents, social media is at the forefront of everyone's mind. With technology fulfilling instant gratification requests, our children are one step ahead (possibly more) of parents. Does your child's school or teacher have any social media policies or rules that you need to be aware of?
Also ask whether your child's school uses social media in the classroom. As these technologies continue to transform and re-invent themselves, find out how your teacher will use them to his or her advantage: Is it a way to capture students' attention and communicate with them in a language they understand and appreciate, or is it a distraction and are traditional teaching styles are preferred?
Many teachers around the country are using a program called Edutopia, created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, which gives guidelines to schools on how to incorporate social media into lesson plans. Several teachers have created Facebook pages that are subject-specific, where students are instructed to "friend" the page and comment on an assignment the teacher has posted. This has proved to be successful for language teachers.
Ways to Support Your Child
It is a hard pill to swallow when you discover that your child is struggling in one or more subjects or socially. "Homework can be an area of stress for children," says Julia Kozusko, LPC, parent coach and child/family therapist. "Be aware of the homework policy in your district and don't be afraid to approach the teacher if the load your child receives is out of line with the recommendation, especially in the younger grades."
Should your child need extra academic support, ask the teacher how the school handles those situations: Are there after-school tutoring options? Do you need to hire an outside tutoring service? For social issues, does the school work with a child psychologist? How does the school identify and manage bullying situations? Remember, be open-minded as much as you can, it's always hard to hear that your child is bullying someone or failing math, but lean on the school and know that they are equipped to help should your family need additional support.
Education is a partnership between parents and the school, and it's important that you have a list of topics and questions prior to the conference. This will ensure you and your child's teacher will have open lines of communication and can address any issues and, of course, celebrate any successes.
Need more advice to get you through this big talk? Read our article on Strategies for a Successful Parent-Teacher Conference.
Jennifer Geisman is a freelance writer and faithful beauty junkie living in Los Angeles, California. Her work can be found here.