Take Five for Education: UT Faculty Offer Advice for Parent-Teacher Conferences

KNOXVILLE — Parent-teacher conferences should be a learning experience, for both parents and teachers.

These conferences should be more than an obligatory stop to see the latest test scores or complain about the latest report card. The meetings provide an ideal venue for parents and teachers to share information and get to know each other a little better, according to experts from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Here, two faculty members from the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences suggest five topics you’ll want to cover at your next parent-teacher conference.

This list was developed by Clinical Associate Professor Kristin Rearden and Assistant Professor Susan Groenke. Rearden focused on the needs of younger kids and Groenke focused on older youth.

Kristin Rearden

Kristin Rearden

1. How is my child doing on his class work?

Start by asking how your child is doing in various subjects. Are there certain subjects that your child is struggling in and, if so, does the teacher sense why?

The conference is also a good time for parents of younger children to ask about early benchmarks, Rearden said.

For instance: What is your child’s independent reading level, and how has it changed over time? Is your child gaining in reading skills as expected for the grade level? Are your child’s organizational and study skill habits appropriate for the grade level?

Parents of older children — who might not have quite as much daily involvement in homework — might want to ask what their teenagers are studying and reading, as well as what projects they have under way.

Check whether your child is getting his work done on time.

Ask about upcoming assignments and deadlines, and how much notice to students is given, Groenke said. “Too often parents come in after big projects and tests are due and grades are in.”

2. How does my child appear to be doing socially?

Ask if the teacher sees your child interacting with peers during free time, Rearden said. Ask if your child is actively participating during group work, what leadership skills the teacher has noted and if there is any concern about interactions with other children.

Similar questions can be asked about older children, Groenke said.

Some other good questions to ask, Groenke said, include, “What is my child’s attitude in class?” and “Does she volunteer?”

3. What can I do to help my child?

“Researchers have long said that the No. 1 factor in student achievement at school is family involvement at home,”

Susan Groenke

Susan Groenke

Groenke said.

In addition to getting advice for helping, parents should seek follow-up discussions with the teacher to make sure progress is being made.

“Parent-teacher conferences do not have to be limited to one meeting in the fall,” she said.

“If there is a need to address specific concerns, such as inconsistent homework completion, a timeline can be established to monitor progress on a more frequent basis. Set a target date with the teacher to reconvene and discuss your child’s progress. Remember, you all have the same goal — helping your child reach his or her potential!”

4. What sources of help are available?

Find out if the school has services that could help your child — whether your child is a high-performer or needs help to catch up.

“If talented/gifted programs or remediation programs are offered, what factors does the teacher consider for participation?” Rearden said. “Are there other evaluations that should be conducted to see if your child should be receiving additional services through the school? How are decisions made regarding placement in advanced courses, such as accelerated mathematics courses?”

5. Tell teachers pertinent details about home life and your child’s goals.

“Teachers would like parents to tell them about big family changes at home — divorce, brother moved off to college, adoption of sibling, death of close friend or relative or even pet,” Groenke said. “Also, it is helpful to know about medications that might affect the student’s attention, participation, mood, etc.”

Also, she said, talk to teachers about your teenager’s career goals, hobbies and out-of-school interests

“The pace of the classroom doesn’t always leave time for exploring personal topics that offer great insight into what the student might find interesting or be willing to research or read,” Groenke said. “It’s great when you can find a shared interest. Career ideas and goals help teachers help students.”

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely, (865-974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu)

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