This week our school has parent teacher conferences. They’ve got me thinking about what exactly it means to be knowledgeable about my children’s education. The timing for fall conferences can vary significantly, so you may have already been to one this year – or you might not have one for a few more weeks. Either way, what information should you know at this point of the school year?

Your Teacher’s Expectations

By now, you’ve probably determined the teacher’s personality. My daughter’s teacher tends to let deadlines lag as she follows the flow of student interest and learning. An essay due on Monday might be extended to Friday when the class begins a discussion that applies to the subject. Her expectations of the students require they be engaged in the process. My son’s teacher, however, sticks to deadlines like a drill sergeant. She expects results at the time she appoints. Homework, projects, and learning all look very different for each of them.

What about what your teacher expects from you as a parent?  This might take a bit more communication and back and forth. I’ve told both teachers that I approach homework with the idea that my kids are responsible for it. I provide the space and the free time, but what goes on the paper is left to them. Their teachers aren’t surprised when their homework comes back with mistakes because they know I’m not correcting it at home unless I’m specifically asked for help.

Class Curriculum

It’s important to know the general themes and topics your children will be covering through the year. Usually a teacher will share these in the beginning of the year through a letter or at a class meeting. You can further refine this by asking about a particular subject and its schedule through the year. Most teachers teach math and language arts every day and alternate science and social studies in some way. I like to know when those particular units come up, so that I can support them at home. We might take a trip to the aquarium when someone is studying the Water Cycle or check out local flora when they’re learning about biomes. I also like checking in during holidays and busy times to find out about any opportunities I might have to get involved with a lesson or, even more fun, a party!

Areas of Academic Strength and Weakness

At this point in the school year, hopefully your teacher knows your child. Ask where your student really excels and where they could use a boost. Are these general observations or backed by assessments? Being the one with their fingers on the pulse of their education, the teacher can give you a more nuanced opinion than a test. From there, determine next steps and goals  for your child and see if there is a way you can contribute to that growth.

Personal Observations

You understand your kids better than anyone, but teachers see a different side of them at school.  They can give you a window into their work patterns, social habits, and motivations. A few weeks ago, I asked how engaged my daughter was in lessons overall because when I teach there, she seems off in her own world. Her teacher responded, “It depends on if she’s interested. When she’s in, she’s all the way in and when she isn’t, she’ll just slide by.”

Likewise, my son’s teacher and I have started to work together to address his people pleasing. We fear that if he worries too much about doing something incorrectly, he may chose to do nothing at all. I wouldn’t have known these from report cards or test scores but they are crucial skills we need to address.

What Not to Do!

Remember, when meeting with an educator, that this is their job and they are probably good at it. Unless you see specific reasons to question their abilities or investment, you can leave the details to them. Some parents become too involved in the day to day flow of the classroom and stress themselves, their students, and their teachers.  You do not need to know the exact breakdown of the schedule or the method for collecting papers.

In the end, find a balance between all those involved. Give your students room to develop in their way and your teachers room to teach, all the while staying informed about how that is happening.

Do you have a parent teacher conference coming up? Read a great article with tips on how to approach the actual meeting, Making the Most of Parent Teacher Conferences.