How to handle a tough parent-teacher meeting

Six ways to make sure you and the teacher are working, and solving problems, together.

By GreatSchools Staff

Take a breath

If the teacher focuses on issues your child is having at school, before responding, take a breath and simply listen. No parent likes to hear negative things about their child — whether it’s bad behavior in class or a possible learning problem (such as difficulty with reading, writing, or math).

If you feel like the teacher is criticizing your child — such as saying she interrupts or bullies other — it’s easy to get angry or defensive. Or if the problem is a learning disability, it can be overwhelming to find out that your child is struggling to keep up with others and may need extra help outside of class (there are a lot of special education terms and information to take in).

In what can be a very emotional moment, do your best not to let those feelings take over. Instead, be open to what the teacher is saying — and don't respond until you’ve gathered your thoughts.

Be clear

If you are coming to the teacher with a problem you’re concerned about, try to be as clear as possible. Some parents worry that if they tell the teacher about an issue their child is having in class, the teacher will think they’re criticizing her — or that they’ll get their child into more trouble.

But it’s always best to be open and direct and, as many psychologists advise, start with “I” sentences, so the teacher isn’t put on the defensive: "I’m concerned about my child. She tells me everyone is teasing her.” “I’m not sure what to do. My child says she’s bored during math." “I’m worried my child is getting in fights with other kids.” “I’m not sure why, but my child thinks you don’t like her.” (This is a tough one to say, but if your child believes this, it’s best to talk about it and find a solution.) By being clear with the teacher, you have a better chance of solving the problem.

Give helpful information

No one knows your kid better than you do. If you’re worried that the teacher doesn’t get your child or is judging her unfairly, tell her whatever you can so that she better understands your child. (Click here for more information on what's appropriate to share with the teacher.)

If you know that your child would pay better attention if she’s sitting closer to the teacher, let her know. Or that your child, who often feels left out and doesn’t know how to make friends easily, might be bullying other kids to get attention. The more you can do to gently help the teacher get to know your child better, the easier it will be to solve the problem together.

Shift to solutions

Once you’ve talked about the problem, ask the teacher “What do you think?” or “What can we do to make this better?” This brings you from focusing on the problem to focusing on solutions. Also, by asking these questions, you’re letting the teacher know that you value her advice and are willing to work with her.

Get to know the teacher

Your meeting doesn’t have to be all business. Take a minute to get to know the teacher on other levels. In other words, treat her as a person by finding out more about her. Does she have kids? Is this her first time teaching this grade? Does she know anyone who struggles with learning? As with any relationship, the more you know about the other person, the easier it is to make a connection.

Hand out praise

In these conversations, people often focus on what’s not working, so the whole tone of the meeting can be negative. Instead, take time to point out the good stuff too! Express appreciation that the teacher is concerned enough to bring up problems to be addressed, and tell her about the good things she’s doing with your child. Your support will go a long way toward building a positive parent-teacher relationship.