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Prep for talk with teacher

As parents rework schedules to squeeze into the 15-minute parent-teacher conference that is a rite of fall in schools everywhere, we wonder: What good is this doing?

Not much if you don’t prepare.

I have one child in first grade, so most of my conferences are ahead of me, but I know I am bad at the conference thing. I go in hoping to learn what his day is like, how much he’s learning, where he’s lacking, what we can do to help, and, frankly, what the teacher thinks of him.

This conference is not the only time you can talk to your child’s teacher. It’s a good checking-in moment, but you should always be able to discuss your child with his or her teacher.

How to get the most out of the quick conversation? We gathered a few tips from people who know.

Gabrielle Carpenter, director of school counseling at Tuscarora High School in Leesburg, Va., says parents must “establish a relationship with the teacher. ... It shows that you are ... not just waiting until there is a concern to contact the teacher.”

She suggests that parents:

•Send a short email to teachers at the beginning of the school year outlining a child’s strengths and areas of improvement. State what your child’s goals are and what your expectations are for the student and teacher.

•Don’t become defensive if something “unflattering but true” is said about the child, Carpenter says. In other words, advocate for your child, but also show the teacher that you are a partner in helping your child do well.

Sean McGee, the principal of an elementary school in Montgomery County, Md., recommends that parents share information that the teacher may not know about the child, such as his or her favorite subjects and outside hobbies, as well as things happening at home that may affect school work.

“Remember that both you and the teacher want to help your child to succeed. ... Even if the teacher says something you disagree with, try to listen to what he or she has to say,” he suggests. Beyond that, he says parents should:

•Ask to see your child’s work. There is no better way to see how your child is progressing.

•Ask the teacher whether your child is putting forth his or her best effort.

•Ask the teacher to explain. Every profession has its own jargon, and if you don’t understand what is being said, ask.

•Sum up what you think has been said. This will make sure you both agree on any decisions you have made about your child. If necessary, ask to meet again.

Finally, don’t forget to talk to your child about the conference. When my son was in kindergarten, he was nervous that I was going to talk to his teacher. “What do you think she’ll say?” I asked. “I don’t know, but it can’t be good,” he replied.