“How was your day?” you ask. “Fine” or “good” or simply a blank stare is your kid’s response. Sound familiar? Then you’re probably champing at the bit for a parent-teacher conference—the quarterly information sharing ritual that gives parents a sense of what’s been going on…the good, the bad and the ugly. Alas, these tệte-à-tệtes are typically quite brief, so it’s wise to show up prepared. We spoke to Judy Stern, a school principal in Brooklyn with 15 years of teaching experience under her belt, to get her take on the most productive questions to ask.
5 Questions to Ask in a Parent-Teacher Conference, According to a Teacher Who’s Been on the Other Side of the Table
1. In what moments have you seen my child thriving? Struggling?
This one is pretty straightforward, but it is helpful to know the areas in which your child naturally excels, as well as those that present a challenge. The beauty of this question is that it allows the teacher to touch on a wide range of strengths and weaknesses, from academic performance to classroom behavior. Indeed, Stern says that in her experience “slightly broader questions like this one tend to require a more thoughtful response from teachers.”
2. Does my child seem happy playing with his/her peers?
A large part of the learning that takes place in elementary school is the social-emotional kind—and you most likely don’t get to see your kid’s social skills in action nearly as often as their teacher does. As such, “you’ll be in a much better position to promote your child’s healthy social-emotional growth at home if you mine the teacher for insight,” says Stern.
3. Does my child ask questions when they do not understand?
Per Stern, “young children sometimes struggle academically simply because they feel too shy or embarrassed to ask for help or even just basic clarification before they begin their work.” The kids who ask for extra guidance when they need it, however, are far less likely to fall behind. Find out how comfortable your kid feels asking questions, so you can help them practice this useful classroom skill if necessary.
4. How can I best support my child at home?
“When teachers and parents are working in tandem, everyone wins,” says Stern. That said, it’s not always easy for parents to determine how best to help, which is why it’s important to come right out and ask. (Hint: The answer will depend on your kid’s specific needs, and could range from anything from “set up a nightly reading routine” to “consider an outside tutor.”
5. How can I best support you?
Teachers also need as much support as they can get in order to keep the whole classroom operation running smoothly, but you won’t know exactly what they need (supplies, volunteer time, etc.) unless you ask. For this reason, Stern recommends ending the conference with this question. After all, both teachers and students are more likely to succeed when parents get involved—even if it just means sending in an extra roll of paper towels.