At a glance:
- Make a list of any questions you have.
- Go with a calm, positive attitude.
- Take a friend or support person if you need to.
- Let the school know beforehand if you need an interpreter.
- Stay in touch with the school throughout the year.
- Follow up with suggestions that come out of the interview.
- Contact the school any time of the year if you have concerns about your child.
- Always make an appointment to speak with the teacher.
Parent-teacher interviews can sometimes be a little daunting, especially if we weren't the most enthusiastic students ourselves. But these opportunities to touch base with your child's teachers are really important and shouldn't be missed.
Here are some tips from Harrington Street Public School principal Wayne Koboroff, about how to get the best out of your time with the teacher.
Do your homework.
Take a few minutes before your meeting to jot down any questions or comments you have. Because interviews usually only run 10 – 15 minutes it's good to have a reminder of the points you wanted to raise. Common questions may include:
- How is my child fitting in with other children?
- What are the children working on now in class?
- Is there anything about my child's needs that I should know?
- Does my child ask questions, participate in class discussions/ class room activities?
- Is my child's reading progress satisfactory?
- What activities does my child seem to enjoy the most at school?
- Who are my child's friends?
- Is my child's numeracy progress satisfactory?
- Does my child join in with other children in the playground?
- What kinds of things will the class be doing over the next few weeks?
- Can you tell me the best time and way to contact you if I have a query or concern?
- Do you have any concerns about my child?
- How is my child progressing in comparison to others in his/her year level?
Also, list anything that might be happening at home that may be helpful for your child's teacher to know. If your child has seen a specialist for example, there may be some information that is important for the teacher or the school counsellor to know.
Go with the right attitude.
Try to approach the interview with a positive and relaxed attitude, remembering you and the teacher are partners in your child's learning. Don't be afraid to raise your concerns. At the same time, if you're upset about something, let the teacher give you their explanation of the situation. Heading to the school with the attitude that you're going to ‘sort them out' won't help anyone.
Many teachers are parents too, and the vast majority choose teaching because they want to help kids achieve their best. In other words, you're on the same team.
Walk away with an agreed plan.
Admittedly, there are times when the news isn't all good. If the teacher raises issues about your child's learning, development or behaviour, your goal will be to understand how he or she plans to manage that during the school day and how you can provide support at home.
For example, if your child needs to pay more attention in class and stop distracting others (sound familiar?), a behaviour diary which travels between class and home every day may be a good suggestion. The idea is the teacher updates you with a short, written account of your child's day, so you can discuss it with your child each evening.
Ask the teacher what sort of strategies they have in mind and how you can help.
Plan to communicate.
The parent-teacher interview is not the only time you can discuss your child with the teacher, but many parents find it's their only opportunity to visit the school. Ask the teacher how you can best communicate with each other in the future. Many teachers make appointments to see or call parents outside of school hours, others find emails work well.
Don't arrive at the classroom door unexpectedly and hope to have a quick chat. Between 8:30 am to 3:30 pm is non-stop for teachers, and their primary responsibility each day is to teach their students. They can't leave their class unattended to talk with parents. Respect the teacher's professional skills and expertise and remember you both want what is best for your child.
Don't let issues brew.
Don't leave it until you're upset or very worried before you contact the school. Stay in touch with the teacher as best you can, and when a concern arises, send a note to say you need to chat. Give them some clue about your concerns, so they can prepare for your conversation. If, for example, you're worried your child isn't making friends, the teacher may want to observe them in the playground before you talk.
Or, if you're concerned your child isn't performing as well as expected, the teacher may want to check last year's notes or talk with colleagues who have taught your child.
If there's something happening at home with your child or another family member, it can affect what's happening at school, so you may want to let the school know.
Get to know your high school child's year adviser.
The year adviser is a great point of contact when you have a question or problem that's not specific to one subject area. If, for example, your child doesn't seem to be on top of their homework (or says they're not getting any homework) the year adviser would be the person to call. They can have a chat with the teachers involved and then get back to you.
The same goes with social problems your child may be having. Year advisers try to get to know all "their" kids on a more personal level, and can keep an eye on how you're child is progressing.
Be as involved with the school as you can.
It's definitely easier to approach the teacher or the principal when you feel like part of the school community.
Teachers like to talk about the good stuff too!
If you don't go to parent teacher interviews, you're also missing out on the chance to hear really positive things about your child that they may not tell you themselves. It's equally rewarding for teachers to share good news with a parent.
You may need to get others involved.
If you've talked to the teacher and still aren't satisfied with the outcome, you can always make an appointment to discuss your concerns with the principal. You can bring a support person with you to any meeting at the school. If you need the help of an interpreter, let them know when you make the appointment, so they can arrange to have someone on the phone or at the meeting to help you.
After the interview.
It's important to discuss the meeting with your child and really congratulate them on their strengths. If the teacher made suggestions of things you could do at home, discuss these with your child and commit to following through with them.
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