Mastering parent-teacher interviews

You’re about to hear from your child’s teacher. Here’s how not to sweat the meeting, Antonia Cetin writes


Do you dread parent-teacher interviews because you don’t know what to say, what to ask, or what to listen for? How do you ensure you get the most out of the interview so you know what’s going on and so you know how best to support your child at school?


3Ps: Punctual, Prepared, Present


Since teachers have many students and possibly multiple classes, you may only have 10 to 15 minutes, which fly by when you are talking about the subject most near and dear to your heart: your children. To get the most out of this meeting, be punctual, prepared and present. And, don’t feel bad about knocking on the door at your appointed time – it helps the teacher stay on schedule.


Decide your goal for the meeting and what you need to discuss ahead of time. Is it determining how best to help your child improve reading skills? Understanding how they achieved a certain mark? Finding a solution to a bullying problem? Or supporting your child at home in following routines? Keep sight of your goal and make sure you discuss it. 


During the meeting, be focused and attentive for any helpful information or suggestions. To ensure you understood them the way they were intended, repeat important points. Take notes so you don’t forget what was said, especially if you are meeting multiple teachers.


What to say


During the first few minutes of the interview, focus on building the rapport that will help you all work together. Mention that you appreciate the teacher’s efforts on behalf of your child and offer your support and encouragement. Relate an amusing anecdote your child told about something in the classroom and what you learned from it. Talk about what your child loves about the classroom. Teachers love to hear what your child is getting out of their time together and need to hear about what’s going well.


Talk about your child’s interests and strengths as you observe them at home. Any information you offer the teacher will help them support your child. If the teacher knows your child is an introvert, they may find ways of verify understanding other than answering in a large group. If the teacher knows your child loves hockey, they may provide examples in a hockey context or relate material to a hockey perspective. If the teacher knows your child struggles with a concept, they can try a new strategy to help advance learning. Teachers need feedback to help better meet the needs of your child.  


What to ask


Insider tip: During a meet the teacher event at the beginning of the school year, teachers dread the question: “How is my child doing?” At this point, the teacher doesn’t know the students yet, has not had the opportunity to assess learning, and therefore cannot offer much new information. By contrast, in an interview after a reporting period, the teacher has information to share and will expect to be talking about student progress and marks in various subjects. Rest assured, the teacher will have something to say. It’s not all up to you to keep the conversation going.


About those marks – do you notice some marks are very different than others? Ask what your child is doing particularly well in one area and use that feedback to improve in others. Ask why a particular mark is lower so you can help your child improve in that area. If there is a mark that surprises you, ask about it. What were the conversations with your child, the observations about their work, and the evaluations that led the teacher to attribute this mark? 


The comments on the report card also give you information:

  • Do they mention your child’s strengths and how those strengths are helping them learn?
  • Is it clear how their skills are developing and how they are thinking about their learning?
  • Can you tell how they are getting along with other students?
  • Do you have a sense of your child’s attitude about their learning, their work and their progress?
  • Do you need more detail about the next steps in your child’s learning or social development?


What to listen for


Try to listen to the subtext and verify your understanding with the teacher. Does “energetic and active” mean “disruptive” or “enthusiastic”? Does “quiet” mean “obedient” or “separate?” Does the teacher have the data needed to analyse and support your child’s learning?


The teacher is trying to give you the most information possible in your 10 to 15 minutes with the goals of informing you and helping your child succeed. If you do not like what you hear at this meeting, even if you think it’s the opposite of what you observe at home, keeping things positive will only help your child. Get as much information as you can, ask for concrete examples and clarify what you think you are hearing. At home, think about what was said and if needed schedule a follow-up interview to discuss your observations further. 


Follow up if necessary


If you need to discuss something in more detail, choose a date and time for a follow-up meeting. Decide the goal of that meeting, and discuss what each attendee has to do to prepare.


Following these simple suggestions for what to say, what to ask and what to listen for, and preparing ahead of time for the interview will give you confidence, allow you to create a strong working relationship with your child’s teacher, and get you the information you need to help your child be happy and successful in school.