Dear Teacher,

Next week we’re having our parent-teacher conference and, frankly, I’m getting nervous.

You see, through the years I’ve had some conferences that were like bad therapy sessions – with a silent teacher staring blankly at me for a painful half hour. (Not that I have been in therapy, much. I’d like to reassure you that I’m a very capable and productive parent – qualities I hope you see in my child, too.)

I’ve also had some conferences that were so helpful and insightful that I wanted to kiss the teacher’s feet. Not that I’d do that. Kiss your feet. Although if that would make you feel better about my child, just say the word.

Here’s the deal, though. I’ll do just about anything to avoid a disastrous parent-teacher conference. Between my two children (doing some quick math – something my child has inherited from me – an agile mathematic mind), I have about 35 more conferences in my future. So I’ve done my homework, scouring articles, watching videos, and reading teachers’ open letters to parents about how to have the best possible meeting. I’ve taken to heart that you want me to listen carefully to what you have to say, to work with you as a team member, to fill you in on how my child is doing at home, and to trust that you have my child’s best interest in mind.

But, if it’s not too presumptuous, I thought I’d share with you my hard-earned wisdom of what I wish teachers would (and wouldn’t) do at parent-teacher conferences. I’m hoping you find this as helpful as I’ve found your advice. After all, you may have long been wondering, ‘What do parents really want out of parent-teacher conferences?’ Wonder no more! Here, dear teacher, is what I’d like you to keep in mind for our upcoming meeting:

Know my child. Reassure me that for the past 60 days you’ve noticed my child sitting there in your class. At the very least, please know her name. That would be nice.

• Say something positive, but make it real. By all means, heap on the praise! Like most parents, I’m a glutton for compliments about my kid. I don’t want you to stretch too much (I realize you’re busy and having 30 of these meetings), but is something tailored like, ‘Your child has such a unique imagination. I enjoyed her delightful short story about intergalactic giraffes,’ too much to ask? If all you can think to say is, ‘She’s making some progress,’ well . . . please, don’t.

• Be honest. Along with the positive stuff, I need to know what’s not going well. I promise, I can take it. But realize I may burst into tears if you use words like “clueless,” “lazy,” and “utter failure” about my 6-year-old. It’s OK to sugarcoat my child’s challenges, if only just a little, with descriptors like, “dreamer,” “laid-back,” and “not overly ambitious.” I’ll still get the point.

• Please don’t say, “She’s doing fine.” I know this year got off to a rough start, and even if it is getting better, “fine” makes me think maybe you haven’t noticed my child is still miserable in the classroom, day after day. Maybe I’m being neurotic, but hearing this bland and off-the-mark observation from you, I’m likely to worry even more that my child isn’t fine at all – and that things are far worse than I thought.

• Treat me like an adult. It’s hard enough as it is for me to go in to meet with you. You are, after all, a teacher and wield a lot of authority and power over my child – and me. Even though I’m not 10 years old anymore, I still feel like a child when I hear a teacher tell me I need to do better and work harder. Know that, like you, I’m doing the best I can; but I can always use some gentle wisdom to help me be an even better parent.

• Skip the diagnosis. Unless you hold a medical degree, please refrain from recommending medication or slapping an acronym on my child. Suggesting a specialist who can assess my child further – and giving me specific examples of behaviors (in context) that I can discuss with that specialist – will do the trick, thank you very much.

• Avoid the lecture. I’m not the one who is shooting spitballs in class. My spirited child, who idolizes her teenage brother, is. So, please, instead of giving me a stern talking-to, how about: ‘Let’s come up with a plan together to redirect your child’s considerable energy in a positive way.’

• Remember that I worship you. I really do. I more than get how hard it is to guide, with wisdom and grace, young minds: Being a teacher is the hardest job out there. You deserve an all-inclusive, deluxe vacation as a reward for not just teaching, but controlling, 25 kids every day, six hours a day, without collapsing. If you continue supporting and believing in my child, and communicating clearly with me, I’ll do just about anything for you. For starters, let me know how you take your coffee – and if you’d like a box of chocolates to go with it.

Sincerely,
A parent