Teachers Discuss Parent Conferences

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Photo illustration by Noa Schabes ’17.

According to Upper School Dean of Students Paul Murray, out of 233 students in the Middle and Upper Schools, 206 families came in for parent-teacher conferences in early November.

Given the record turnout, The Gator asked several teachers about how they prepare for a successful parent-teacher conference, with the ultimate goal of helping all students find success.

Paul Murray: Upper School Dean of Students, Grade 9 English teacher.

Q: What are teachers’ goals in a parent-teacher conference?

A: The ultimate goal is to have a sense of partnership. Teachers and parents are the adults in students’ lives and we want to work together to make sure that we are providing the best possible education.

I think all too often education appears like students versus teachers. In reality, we work together to help you guys get excited about stuff, and be passionate about exploring the world and learning about yourself. The chance for parents to sit down and talk about kids is quite enjoyable. I think most teachers [enjoy the process], too.

If a student is having some problems, these problems are not going to be solved in a 10-minute conversation. But that initial connection is going to give us the ability to have further discussions. A parent-teacher conference in early November helps us set the tone and identify what we can do to help that individual for the rest of the year.

Q: What is the typical parent attitude going into these conferences?  

A: If the parents are taking the time to come in, then they certainly want to listen to what the teachers have to say. This year, actually, we had the highest number of parents coming in for conferences in a long time.

That’s a lot. Of course parents have high expectations for their kids, but generally, they do not come in wanting to grill the teachers. I think the parents at Brimmer are curious. They want to know what’s going on in the classroom. They want to know that their kids are being taking care of and learning. The grades are important to some parents, but that’s not what parent conferences are about. Can things go bad sometimes? Of course they can, but that’s rare.

Kathryn Lee: Upper School art teacher.

Q: How do you structure a parent-teacher conference?

A: I make notes of things I want to tell the parents. For the Middle School, notes might be something along the lines of “they did a great job,” or “it would benefit your child to be more productive in class.” For Upper School students, sometimes, I will make notes about specific projects. Then I break down the grades so that when parents have questions, I’ve got the information right there. I also go ahead and write down other information I think might be helpful going into the meeting.

Q: What do you think about parent-teacher conferences?

A: I think they are really helpful because they put teachers and parents on the same page. It’s also an opportunity to get feedback from parents. Let’s say one student is struggling, or one student is not doing their homework effectively, the parent’s perspective helps me become more informed in helping that individual succeed.

Peter Slaski: Middle and Upper School mathematics teacher.

Q: How do you structure a parent-teacher conference?

A:  I make sure to have each student’s exam and assessment information right in front of me. Then, I usually try to show parents a recent quiz or project so they can see what their child is working on. Sometimes, I will start the conference by jumping right into it. Other times, I will start by asking parents if they have any questions or concerns.

I also try to keep conferences positive, certainly. But sometimes I tell parents that a student could be putting more effort into their homework, or make better use of the Math Lab. I don’t think this necessarily being negative, but it is something that students could do to improve in class.

Q: How does the focus of a parent-teacher conference change between grades?

A: The way you would handle an AP Statistics student in 12th grade is very different than they way you would handle a 7th grader. In Middle School, there is a little more emphasis in the conference on students’ organization and things like that. For 12th grade, I don’t say, “well, they did not bring their pencils and calculators to class,” because those students know that they are supposed to prepare and stay organized. There is a different emphasis. I think there has to be.

Q: Do you like parent-teacher conferences?

A: I like them. As you know, I’m a talker, and I like meeting people. You notice that a lot of parents are very much like their kids, which is fun because the kids will never admit that.  But the alternative to conferences is for teachers writing out report cards. Those take a lot of effort, and I would prefer to sit in a room with someone, face-to-face, and check in with them about where their kids are at.

Brian Purcell: Middle School humanities teacher.

Q: How do you structure a parent conference?

A: Usually, I put together statistics and grades and have them available to show parents online. I always try to share some positive news. If I have to say a kid did really poorly on a test, I always try to add in something like, “But he can do really good next time because he is improving his study habits.”

Q: What aspects of a student’s performance do you focus on?

A: It depends on what the parents wants to talk about. If a parent comes in and really wants to talk about grades, that’s what we do. But like to focus on a student’s overall performance—not just tests and papers, but also how they behave in class.

Q: Do you like parent-teacher conferences?

A:  I enjoy them because you get to know families a bit better. More often than not, I wish I could speak with parents for longer than just 10 minutes.

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