A couple of weeks ago, I spent several days teaching at a new teachers’ institute. We worked together on all sorts of things new teachers need to know before beginning their careers. One of the workshops was about communicating with parents. I was not teaching that seminar and as I sat there listening and watching, I realized that the parent-teacher relationship is really the key to school success for children. Yet, parent-teacher conferences are often uncomfortable for both the parents and the teacher.
I also thought about two authors who have written on this topic. One is Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot, who wrote, The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other. In her book, she writes, “Children flourish when the adults in their lives agree on them. Children do not have strong identities of their own. They see themselves through the eyes of the adults who love and teach them. For that reason it is important that the adults in their lives see them in a unified way.”
In Michael Thompson’s essay, The Fear Equation: Solving a Complex Parent-Teacher Problem, he writes about the emotions that both parents and teachers feel during conferences. Parents bring to the table memories of their childhood experiences in school and feel afraid, exactly like they did when they were children. Teachers sit there believing myths about unreasonable parents who lash out at teachers in order to intimidate them. What they both really need to be doing is talking with one another about the child!
Today, I was wondering why this problem persists. Nearly every one of us can think back about both good and bad experiences we had in school. Unfortunately, we tend to focus on the bad. Parents should approach their child’s conferences with confidence, and try to remember good things about school. No one knows a child better than his parents.
And teachers are not bad people even if they do make mistakes at times. In his essay, Thompson says, “Schools are tender places, full of teachers who have latent fears of their own.” Teachers should approach parent conferences with respect for parents as people who try very hard to do what is right for their child. They should give parents a chance to tell them what is on their mind regarding their child’s progress in school—a chance to ask questions and make suggestions.
With this model of mutual respect for one another and focus on the child, the parent-teacher relationship will be positive. The person who benefits from this is the child. As Lawrence Lightfoot says in her book, “If parents and teachers are on the same page with respect to children, it is much easier for the children to feel whole and understood, and to succeed.”
Best wishes to both parents and teachers are we get ready to begin the new school year. I can hardly wait to have students in my classroom. I miss seeing the kids every day!
Editor's Note: Explore this important topic further through these SchoolFamily.com articles about parent-teacher communication. And print out our Back-to-School Parent-Teacher Conference Questions checklist to take with you when you meet your child's teacher for the first conference: