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Questions to Ask Your Child's Teacher

Author:Arlene DeVries

Topic: Parent-teacher Conferences

Fall is in the air. The students are established at school and the memo comes home regarding parent-teacher conferences. Of course we will attend to support our children in their education. What a disappointment when, during our brief conference, the teacher, with great enthusiasm, may tell us only, "Your child is doing fine!" Or, after checking in the grade book to determine which one is our child, proudly recites the letter grades the student is receiving. But what we want to know is, "What about the 'well- being' of our child? We know what letter grades he or she brings home!"

If we are about educating the whole child, parents and teachers must have positive communication regarding the child's development, including both academic and emotional growth. Teachers bring expertise in content areas, curriculum planning, classroom management and student motivation. Parents have insights regarding the core of the individual's being, including needs, aspirations, interests, and strengths. As a parent, educate yourself regarding school policies, including state and local guidelines for gifted/talented programs. Know your child's strengths and weaknesses. Be comfortable with your child's giftedness. Prior to the conference discuss with your child his or her feelings about school. Be prepared to share either positive experiences or unusual situations at home that might affect the emotional well being of the child.

After many school conferences, I devised the following questions I might ask the teacher to help me better understand my child:

•Does my child seem happy at school? What are his or her special interests or strengths?
•How does my child interact with others (age-level peers, older children, younger children, adults)? Is she perceived as a "know- it-all" and made fun of, or do others seek her out? Whom does he play with on the playground?
•Does the academic work seem challenging or is it done with little effort?
•What provisions are made for students to learn at their own pace? Are assignments altered to accommodate abilities and interests?
•If my child participates in special gifted/talented opportunities, is he expected to make up regular classroom work?
•How does my child feel about trying new things or making mistakes? Is she a risk taker?
•What opportunities are there for problem solving or critical and creative thinking? How does my child respond?
•In what ways does my child show the ability to work independently, accept leadership roles, assume responsibility, and exhibit intellectual curiosity?
•What can we do at home to help our child develop his abilities?
•What after-school or summer enrichment opportunities are appropriate for my child?
In communicating with the teacher, avoid absolutes (always, never) and words that might have a negative impact on the teacher (bored, brilliant). Instead, use language such as, "My child seems to learn differently," or "She needs less time and fewer repetitions to master the content." A child with learning disabilities might need to sit toward the front of the room, or away from distractions, or receive assignments in written form rather than oral. Express a willingness to help solve problelms and work cooperatively with the school.

When your child has had postive classroom experiences throughout the year, follow up with affirming notes to the teacher. A thank-you for the time spent at conferences is always appropriate. School-home communicaiton is an on-going process. When parents and teachers share insights, students are assured of academic and emotional growth.

Arlene DeVries, formerly the Gifted/Talented Community Resource Consultant with the Des Moines Public Schools, is now a private gifted education consultant.