I received a call from my daughter’s third grade teacher asking my husband and me to set up a meeting with her regarding our child. I was a wreck. Despite being an experienced educator, with multiple degrees, surrounded by loving and knowledgeable educators in my district, I felt intimidated and uncertain. This was the first time, aside from routine report card meetings, that any professional had expressed an interest in speaking to us. I did not know what to expect. True, I had sat in on hundreds of meetings where I spoke to parents or acted as a consultant, but this was different. This was our child and we were the ones being asked to make an appearance. I did not even have the presence of mind to ask what the teacher wanted to talk about. I simply froze!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The day of the meeting arrived. I can no longer recall the date or time, but I can tell you that I could barely get past hello!!! Suffice to say, the teacher was kind, wonderful, and supportive as she expressed all the positives about our daughter and then her concerns. Concerns, which were later easily remedied. Did the ceiling of that third grade class room fall in? No. Did this teacher degrade our daughter? No. Did our daughter have a caring and concerned teacher? Yes. Did she want input from her parents? Yes. Did she want only the best for our daughter? Yes. Did I learn something about our daughter that I did not know before? Yes. Did I find another great role model for our daughter? Yes. Do I remember this teacher with great fondness? Yes. Did I learn how to approach a teacher if there were a next time? Yes, Yes, Yes !!!!!!!
As a result, it is my pleasure to suggest things we, as parents, can do to make meetings with teachers and administrators easier on all of us:
- Always ask what the meeting is about. Ask the professionals to be specific.
- Ask who will be in attendance in addition to the person who requested the meeting.
- Ask if your child will be in attendance.
- Ask if there is anything you should bring with you that they may need during the meeting.
- Ask for a contact name and phone number in case you have to cancel, change the date or will be late for the meeting.
- Always attend meetings without other children present. They distract from the topic at hand which should be your only focus. This may be difficult for some parents, but is truly necessary. It is impossible to focus on your child’s needs while another child wants to play, or is crying, or is hungry.
- Bring a notebook and pencil or pen in order to take notes so you do not forget the majority of the information you are being given. Most of us, who do not take notes, can barely remember what is said less than 5 minutes after the meeting.
- Arrive at the meeting on time. If you will be late, always call to see if the professionals will still be available. Remember that they are also on a tight schedule and that meeting times are few and far between in most school districts.
- Treat this meeting as collegial with seasoned professionals who care about your child and as those who want to help your child with whatever problems he or she may be having. You have been asked to come in as a collaborative way to help your child, not as a punitive measure. Remember that your child, depending on grade, spends 1-8 hours a day with this professional usually in a highly structured situation. The rest of life’s lessons are based on what you, as parents, provide environmentally, physically, emotionally, and academically. That is why your input is so greatly needed.
- If other professionals work with your child, always gain input from them on the concerns. Some students perform differently in different situations. This can be done by asking them to be at the meeting or asking the teacher, in advance, to obtain information from them.
- Always remember that we constantly evolve and learn and that other people who work with and teach our children can provide information to us and suggestions to us that are life changing and good for for our children. The responsibility of raising children is very precious and very difficult. We want them to have positive and good adult role models in their lives who can teach them more than we know and help them reach new levels. Never think that you know all of the answers. It is a good life lesson.
- If you are asked to make a decision at the meeting and/or sign a document, do so only if you are absolutely certain that you agree with all the details. If not, ask for a time limit which will allow you to review your notes from the meeting, ask further questions if necessary, and seek advice from other professionals.
- Thank those in attendance for inviting you and letting you be a part of your child’s educational journey. No matter how difficult or simple the information you have been given, it indicates your willingness to share in this solution and be collaborative. And always remember that any information a teacher shares with you can be anxiety provoking and as difficult for them to convey as it is for you to receive.
Schools today are all encompassing. They can help with special learning needs, counseling, and psychiatric needs. They can provide you with resources and/or referrals for children dealing with Medicare, healthcare, drugs and alcohol, dental needs, food stamps, clothing, food, homelessness, divorced families, foster care, grief and loss, bullying, eating disorders, and a host of other issues.
Your child’s teacher is always your first level of contact. They want to help and assist you and your family. Let them. There are also guidance counselors, school psychologists, social workers and administrators who are available to guide and support you and your child. Together you can create an academic environment in which your child can thrive.
Saundra M. Freedman Director of Pupil Services, Retired Abington School District
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