January 08, 2014 —

It takes a village to raise a child. It’s an old adage, but the essence of the statement rings true regardless of the era. Though advancements in technology expand our reach and allow us to check-in remotely, the fact remains that we still haven’t solved the riddle for how to be in two places at once. We simply can’t watch over our teens every hour of the day.

During the school year, the “village” is made up of band or theater directors, coaches and teachers. We rely on them to shape our teens academically and personally, expanding their minds through lessons and challenging homework assignments. We trust educators with our teens, but how often do we connect with them? Do we make the most of parent-teacher meetings during the school year?

As an educator, I’ve experienced every type of parent during parent-teacher conferences. I’ve met with the tiger parent, the helicopter parent, the overworked and disconnected parent and even the disinterested parent. These, however, are the outliers.

Most of the time, I have the opportunity to meet with doting parents who simply want to touch base and understand what their teen is up to during the day. If you show up to a conference taking this approach, you will establish a great rapport with your teen’s teachers. If you are present, interested and demonstrate that you want to help, the conference will be a success. Be sure to arrive prepared for the meeting and, perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to continue communicating with your teen’s teacher after the conference is over. From both a parent’s and a teacher’s perspective, I recommend asking your teen’s teachers the following questions:

  • What are my teen’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • Are there any behavioral issues or red flags that I should be aware of?
  • Do you have examples of my teen’s classwork or homework that you can share?
  • What are your grading criteria for assignments?
  • What can I do to help support classroom activities?

Don’t hesitate to take notes during the meeting, as teachers are likely to share a lot of information in a short period of time. Also, try not to interpret the constructive feedback as negative criticism. I realize that as parents, we want to hear that our teen is an exemplary student, but that may not always be the case. Lastly, be conscious of the teacher’s meeting schedule; teachers often have back-to-back appointments and must stick to a schedule. In the event that your meeting is shorter than you would have liked, don’t hesitate to follow up! If you feel like you have more to discuss at the end of your meeting, you can always ask the teacher to schedule a follow-up chat at a later date.

Teachers are very understanding of parents’ work schedules, so if you have a concern and are not able to schedule an in-person meeting, send your teen’s instructor an email to check in and see how things have progressed since the last parent-teacher conference. Believe me – it is much better to stay tuned into what is happening in your teen’s life in real-time, as opposed to learning about it when it is too late.

As parents, it is up to us to cultivate relationships with those who interact with our teens in their daily lives. Teachers are a big part of the village, and as both a parent and a teacher, I can assure you that it is a good idea for the two parties to make an effort to collaborate whenever possible. Talk to each other. Brainstorm with each other. Support each other. Your teen will benefit from it!