Parent/teacher conferences are a staple of the school calendar. Every 12 weeks, like clockwork, the form email goes out to family members of PK-12 students announcing the all-important parent/teacher conferences that are on the horizon.
In Iowa City, parent/teacher conferences for junior high and high school students are purposely scheduled to occur at the midterm of each trimester. The idea is that family members should be checking in with their kids’ teachers halfway through the trimester so that if there is anything that needs to be addressed before grades are “final” families and kids will have the opportunity to course-correct.
In my opinion, the timing of the midterm parent/teacher conference makes a lot of sense—but the conference should be held between the parent and student, instead of the parent and teacher.
Please, just hear me out for a second. By the time your child is in 7th grade they are six years away from a post-secondary education (should they choose to attend some type of training after high school). This means they are six years away from paying for an education and six years away from becoming a legal adult – in which what they do or don’t do in class or what grades they earn or don’t earn in class – cannot be discussed between instructor and parent because of FERPA (the educational equivalent of HIPPA) protections.
This means that once my children graduate from high school . . . if I want to know about their education I will have to ask them.
Conversations around grades and learning can be awkward. The only way I know how to make conversations with my children less awkward is to have them frequently and respectfully.
This leads me to conferencing with my junior high and high school students about their grades, performance, and behavior in class . . . instead of their teacher.
When the email reminder for parent/teacher conferences comes around, I use that email as a reminder to schedule a time with my children for a conference. We decide on a time together and outline the expectations for the conference (what will be discussed, length of conference time, who will attend, etc.).
For us, our conference usually lasts 15 – 20 minutes. The conference includes me, my partner, and the child with whom we are conferencing (no siblings allowed). Our child shows us the online grade book so we can see the current grade in the course and we ask questions about each class. Questions such as:
- Do you think this grade shows you working to your full potential in this class?
- What is your goal for the end of the trimester?
- What do you need to do to reach that goal?
- Are there any assignments you are planning to resubmit or tests you need to retake
- When can we expect that any missing work will be turned in and reflected in the grade book?
Look, the conferences aren’t always great.
I’ve never once had the experience of my children opening up their online grade book and showing me all A’s. Through these child/parent conferences, I discovered that one of my kids plagiarized a paper, another was fine with a C in band because “lessons are annoying”, and that sometimes my kids fail tests or turn in work late.
In other words, I’ve discovered that my kids are human. These conferences have also given my children the opportunity to correct mistakes. They’ve also given me the opportunity to work through things we don’t see eye-to-eye on (like skipping band lessons), and an opportunity for me to show my kids that I am confident they can work through and correct missteps without needing parent intervention.
Child/parent conferences seem like a low-stakes way to dip your toe into the “post-secondary water.” I mean if it goes terribly, you can always just sign up for a parent/teacher conference—right?