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Dear Teacher . . .

It's parent-teacher conference time! In an open letter to her child's teacher, one parent shares her hopes for their upcoming meeting (start, please, by learning her name).

By Leslie Crawford

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.

A parent


is a senior editor at GreatSchools.

Comments from readers

"Thank you very much for this very important letter. I'm a teacher who knows all her students very well. I love to teac and I'm always learning. "
"I wish that the quiet concerns of alliteration may be a channel of peace and reconciliation. "
"I love this letter! It's something I had never thought of before - parent-teacher conferences can be quite an emotional session for both parties... "
"Thank you, it is nice to get some hints from the side of a parent! I will surely keep your advice in mind during the weeks that follow! "
"insightful and good suggestions. especially to list the positives. conferences should start with those. "
"I like this. It reminds me of everything I would say. "
"One more point - If my child is struggling, don't just show me her test scores. Tell me which areas she needs to be working on. Tell me what you are going to do about it. And give me suggestions what I could do to help her and what support you need from me to help her. "
"I would like to add another pointer. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, refrain from utilizing your cell phone in any manner while we are having this short time to talk about my child. (Yes, this actually happened!) It makes me think you really don't place much importance on this coference, and therefore, my child/your student. "
"I love this article it is insightful and it has advise from both perspectives! "
"As a parent and former fourth grade teacher myself, I think this is an excellent artical! I just pulled my child from a class when after two months, the teacher and assistant had nothing personal or nice to say about my vibrant, sweet girl, and they never put her name on any of her papers when they only had a tiny class of eleven. After having had a great teacher and a great year last year, where she was running to the bus in excitement, and telling me all about her day when she came home, this year was a total change. She started asking not to go to school, having nightmares, telling me her teacher was mean and so on. At back to school night I learned that all the classroom management was negative with almost no positive reinforcement. I know that the teacher had some boys who were acting up, but why yell at the whole class when even the teacher admitted that my child had never done anything to get off of "green light status". I only wish that I had had listened to my gut a! nd pulled her sooner. Now, after two weeks of being out of that horrid class, she is back to her happy, loving to learn self. I wish I had the sense to have pulled my older son when he didn't want to go to school. I later learned from another teacher in the school that he had a terrible teacher. Trust your gut feelings and keep going to the parent teacher organization meetings. You will learn a lot by being active and helping at your kid's school. If it isn't the right fit for whatever reason, go to the school and ask for a different class/teacher. They will try to tell you that all teachers are equally qualified and therefore the same, but the degree doesn't matter. When I was a teacher, I knew people who should never be teachers, and I knew some that were such great teachers we should pay them double. They are most certainly not all equal in quality, regardless of what the union and administration wants you to think. "
"While the letter has some very important points about what a good parent/teacher conference should be, the message is lost among the sarcasm and mean spirited way the author makes her point. Shame on the editors at Great Schools for not managing the site better. You gave this "parent" a very public forum to nastily berate teachers. It feels like a "I'll get you back" letter at best. There are many ways to deliver a message and having a large viewer format like Great Schools could have been a way a great way to address obvious problems that often occur between teachers and parents. Less sarcasm and more content would be nice with specific examples of conversations that have not been productive. Please don't use this site as a bully podium. The anonymous nature of the comments is often misused and abused. "
"As a teacher who has done her share of conferences, I say bravo! You have made excellent points. And no teacher should be sitting for 30 minutes, staring blankly at you; that's a teacher who has not done her job to prepare properly for this very important parent-teacher exchange of information and support. "
"25 kids? Yeah, I have 162 students with up to 37 of them in the same class. So if conferences are too close to the beginning of the year, I indeed may have just barely learned your child's name. And you can make my job easier if you would not make me guess that there are things going on at home that would considerably help me understand your child's behavior. "
"Nice to hear a parent 'grade' the teacher! Seems we often 'sugar-coat' things and/or are too opinionated - with little 'wiggle room' in between. I long for those days again.......and I do think they existed in the 50's and 60's (I wasn't around before that) - but the last few decades seemed to have made 'too many Chiefs' and not enough loving, caring, equals (Indians). So hope the world will spin back to mutual respect. If the kids realize adults treat one another this way, they will have the role models they need! Talk about a win-win-win! "
"This article really hits home, I TOTALLY agree. My only wish was my son's class only had 25 students. In the 5th grade at Mt. Scott Elem, Happy Valley, OR there are 39 students!!! Sincerely, Teresa "