5. Be positive and ask objective questions. Beginning with a complaint will probably close the doors to helpful communication between you and the teacher. But it can be tricky to ask questions without seeming to pick a fight. Here are some questions to consider:
- How would you describe my child's academic progress?
- Does my child behave in school?
- What are my child's work habits?
- How does my child get along with the other children?
- How much homework will my child receive each week?
- How much should I be helping my child with her homework?
Then, be ready to plan with the teacher some ways for your child to be more successful in school. Don't assume the teacher has all the answers. You might suggest, "We can turn the TV off for 45 minutes every night if that's how long you think Jason's homework will take."
6. Expect to hear about your child's problem areas. A good teacher will summarize a child's strengths before describing problems. But with limited time to talk and in hopes that you can help your child at home, many teachers immediately focus on a child's weaknesses. Don't be defensive, but try to determine if or how your child may be different at home -- and let the teacher know. If the teacher says that your child doesn't work well in a group, you might say, "In Boy Scouts, David loves working with other boys to earn badges." Then, you and the teacher have some information to explore together. What's the purpose of the group, and who else besides your child is in it? Perhaps the groups need to rotate more often, or your child needs clearer expectations for his work.
7. Ask for handouts. Good teachers know how to save time in a conference, and they also know not to send you home empty-handed. They often have curriculum materials prepared for you to read. Keep them to refer to during the year -- they can answer questions that may occur to you later about classroom policies, the social-studies curriculum, or events such as field trips. The teacher's telephone number and/or e-mail address may also be included.