Regularly scheduled meeting between a student's parent(s) and teacher to discuss his or her progress.
The parent-teacher conference is an opportunity for parents to get a glimpse into the school lives of their children. Although many parents are involved in their children's schools, either as members of a parent-teacher organizations, such as PTA, or as volunteers (in a variety of areas), many more have little or no contact other than the parent-teacher conference.
Some parents are reluctant to attend parent-teacher conferences. Such parents are often anxious about schools because of their own negative experiences as children or because they fear they will be perceived as meddlesome. Often, however, an invitation from a teacher to come in for a meeting will be sufficient to break the ice. More and more teachers are now producing newsletters for children to take home (or having the students produce the newsletters) to inform parents about educational activities. Many schools also offer adult education, recreation, and entertainment events to encourage parents to become more involved in the school setting.
Most school systems require teachers to hold conferences with parents. Both teachers and parents benefit from planning how they will use the time together. The Education Digest, a journal directed at K-12 teachers, suggests that teachers carefully consider a range of areas before a parent arrives. These include providing samples of student work, identifying weaknesses and strengths, discussing the student's overall abilities in critical and creative thinking (rather than just grades), discussing social skills and peer relations, and identifying areas for growth and suggestions for strategies parents can use at home to support their child's success in school. In addition, productive parent-teacher conferences provide opportunities for the teacher to receive information about their students' home lives. Teachers can share what they know about the student, and should be prepared to listen to what parents have to say as well. It is vital that teachers assume a non-threatening, non-judgmental stance in listening to parents' views, since parents may find the conference intimidating.
To make the parent-teacher conference less threatening, parents can also prepare in advance. It is common for parents to interpret criticism of their child as an assault on their parenting skills and can react defensively. To set the tone for a productive conference, parents can prepare by discussing the school experience with their child. Parents can take time prior to and during the conference to ask their child for a self-evaluation; objectively review report cards and grades on homework to gain accurate sense of the child's academic performance; maintain openness to the teacher's evaluation, even if it contradicts the parent's own point of view; and strive to use non-threatening and open-minded language and body language.
Many school districts evaluate the process of parent-teacher conference and monitor the academic research related to this aspect of the education process. Some alternative approaches to the parent-teacher conference that
A triangular conference involves the student, the parent(s), and the teacher. This idea is relatively new but is praised on many fronts because it tends to keep the conversation focused on the needs and progress of the student, thus minimizing the opportunity for either the teacher or the parent(s) to become defensive. The student takes responsibility for sharing his or her progress, and describes his or her assessment of achievements. In most situations, the teacher helps the student prepare in advance, encouraging him or her to select samples of work that he or she feels is representative of his or her learning.
Although it is not feasible in every school system—such as large rural or even suburban school districts—urban school districts, typically geographically compact, may arrange for home conferences for parents and teachers. To minimize safety and security concerns, these home conferences are often carried out by pairs of teachers who visit the parents in their home. Such conferences alleviate anxiety parents may have about entering a school building; they also help teachers become aware of any situations at home that may affect the student.
A portfolio is a collection of student-selected examples of his or her work. The portfolio, considered by those in educational research as an alternative assessment method, can be designed to reflect work in progress or to highlight the student's completed efforts. The portfolio can be used to fulfill several educational objectives, such as improvement of learning or measuring achievement. One of the goals of such alternative assessments is to enable the teacher to address individual student differences.
In the parent-teacher conference setting, the portfolio may provide the basis for the discussion. When the student is present at the conference, he or she shares the items in the portfolio and discusses why each piece represents a notable milestone in his or her educational progress. By using the portfolio—with or without the student present at the conference—the teacher is able to direct the focus on the student's own perception of his or her progress.
When a problem develops between the teacher and parent(s), it is important for both parties to maintain the student's education and growth as priorities. Some school districts make school personnel available to serve as mediators when conflict develops between parents and teachers. Counselors, assistant principals, department heads, and senior teachers are among those who could mediate disagreements.
TEACHERS ASSESS STUDENTS IN RELATION TO PEERS
Fred White, a first grade teacher from New York City, told Better Homes and Gardens, "Parents look at their children with different eyes. That's the way it should be. Teachers, on the other hand, are more objective, less partial. While we certainly see each child as an individual, we also have the benefit of seeing many more kids of the same age every day. That gives us a basis for seeing where one particular seven-year-old is in relationship to other seven-year-olds."
"Beyond the Brief Encounter," NEA Today 15, October 1996, p. 22.
D'Auria, John. "Tremors We Should Not Ignore," Daedalus 124, Fall 1995, pp. 149-52
Enoch, Steven W. "Better Parent-Teacher Conferences," Education Digest 52, April 1996, pp. 48-51.
Johns, Mary Sue. "The New Crusade: Parent Involvement," School Arts 94, December 1994, pp. 16-18.
Kennedy, Marge. "Talking to Teachers," Better Homes and Gardens, November 1995, pp. 36-38.
Moyers, Suzanne. "Giving Students a Voice at Conference Time." Instructor 104, October 1994, pp. 64+.
Rich, Dorothy. "Win Over the No-Shows," Instructor 105, January/February 1996.
"Seven Ways You Can Improve Your School," Redbook, April 1996, pp. 70-76.