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10 Tips for Talking to Your Child's Teacher

Getting the most from parent-teacher meetings when your child has special needs.

Key points

  • Parents should be respectful of their child's teacher's time.
  • One way to be prepared is writing down key discussion points.
  • Parents can share information about their child that could help the teacher better understand their behaviors.

Parent-teacher meetings occur regularly for children with special needs, such as learning disabilities, emotional disorders, or physical disabilities. These meetings can be intimidating for many parents. Keeping calm and remaining focused can mean the difference between a productive and an unproductive meeting.

 Kindel Media/Pexels
Parent-teacher conference.
Source: Kindel Media/Pexels

The following are 10 tips for parents when meeting with their child's teacher.

1. Request a meeting either before or after school hours. Teachers are often busy during the day, even during their free periods. They might use extra time during the school day for grading papers, checking homework assignments, or answering emails from other parents. When meeting with a teacher, you want to make sure you will have uninterrupted time. Scheduling meetings before students come in or after all students have left for the day can allow the teacher to give you undivided attention.

2. If you have concerns, ask for a meeting right away instead of waiting until the next scheduled parent-teacher conference. Problems in school tend to snowball when left alone or not adequately addressed. As soon as you feel there is a situation that needs addressing, contact the teacher and request a meeting. Teachers are more than happy to speak with you and look for solutions before the situation becomes a significant problem.

3. Understand the reasons you are requesting a meeting. If there is a specific concern, the conference's purpose is to address the issue and brainstorm different solutions. Suppose the meeting is for general academic or behavioral problems. In that case, use the discussion to develop strategies for school and home to help the child. Knowing exactly why you want a meeting can help you better focus on finding solutions.

4. Prepare the teacher before the meeting. Send a note, email, or have a brief telephone conversation outlining your concerns to allow the teacher to gather information or observe the situation before your meeting. When both parties prepare ahead of time, you have a more focused discussion.

5. Prepare yourself for the meeting. Talk with your child before the meeting to find out their thoughts about what is going on. If the problem is academic, gather up samples of homework or schoolwork to help explain why you are concerned. If the problem is more of a behavioral problem, ask your child what is going on to find out why they are behaving in a certain way. It is possible underlying issues are going on (someone making fun of them, feeling lonely or out of place, not understanding the schoolwork).

6. Make a list of questions. It is easy to forget all the things you want to discuss with the teacher. Having a list of questions or concerns written down will help you stay focused and get through all of your questions. There is nothing so annoying as to get home and say, "Oh, that's what else I wanted to ask!" You may want to start your list and keep it somewhere to add additional questions as you think of them.

7. Share information about your child to help the teacher. Teachers appreciate when they know "inside" information about their children to help them succeed. For example, does your child develop creative ideas when talking aloud, or do they work better in a quiet area? Sharing what you have found works best for your child gives the teacher information to develop classroom strategies.

8. Plan for future communication. Whatever the concern for the initial meeting, you will undoubtedly want to follow up and monitor the situation. During the discussion, talk about how you and the teacher plan to communicate regularly. For example, you may want to use email daily or weekly, or you may request a brief phone call each week. It is best if you decide on a method of communication and the frequency of future communication.

9. Stay calm and focused throughout the meeting. Although most parents become very emotional when discussing their child, staying calm during the session is essential. Usually, losing your temper is counterproductive and causes both people in the meeting to become defensive. If you aren't sure you can remain calm, ask someone to come with you to help the meeting stay civil and on topic.

10. Respect the teacher's ability and the part they play in your child's life. Teachers are your partners in your child's education. The large majority of teachers are capable of doing their job well and care immensely for the children they teach. Treat the teacher with respect, and the teacher will treat you with respect.

So often, as parents, we only contact teachers when there is a problem and emotions run high. Take some time in between meetings to communicate with the teacher. If your child tells you about something the teacher did to make them feel good or help them succeed, send a note to thank the teacher. You may also consider volunteering in the classroom. Some possible tasks include filing papers, putting school supplies away, or cleaning out closets. The teacher may appreciate the effort, and it may give you a chance to talk, one on one, to the teacher. Developing an ongoing relationship with the teacher and being involved in your child's education regularly can help your child succeed in the classroom.

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