Families weigh in: What I wish teachers knew before parent-teacher conferences

For both families and educators of students who learn and think differently, parent-teacher conferences can feel challenging.

As a teacher, you know that partnering with families is important. But you have limited time to meet with the families of the many students in your class.

For families, a parent-teacher conference can come loaded with emotions, especially if they often hear about their child’s struggles.

Understanding the expectations and emotions of the family members attending the meeting can improve the parent-teacher conference experience for both of you. So we asked families in our Understood Facebook community to answer this question: “What do you wish teachers knew before your parent-teacher conference?”

(We also asked our Understood Teacher Fellows what they wish parents asked at parent-teacher conferences.)

Read on for families’ candid responses and their hopes for these meetings.

Feelings about collaboration and communication

“I wish they knew that I think we are on the same side, the same team. That we want the same thing. A happy child that is thriving in his environment, learning and growing, enjoying those in his life and being enjoyed by them.”

How thankful I am for them. My son truly adores his teachers, and they go above and beyond to ease his anxiety and communicate with me.”

“Communication is everything. If we’re going to be on the same page working toward the same goal, we need to talk to each other! I need to know if he’s having a bad day or a rough week. I need to know if he is seeming more unfocused or if he’s getting easily frustrated. I need and want to know if he is making friends or having trouble making them. I need to know when tests are happening or when homework is handed out. Get ahold of me anytime. I won’t be mad. Call, text, email — heck, send a carrier pigeon! But please talk to me.”

“I wish they would know that when I ask questions and advocate, I am only trying for a best-case scenario…. I realize it is difficult to do things differently for him, and that being a teacher is super challenging these days. I just wish they saw me as a team member working with them at every turn, who really just wants to work things out positively.”

How much I appreciate all that they do to try and help my son. I know he isn’t easy.”

Awareness of families’ experiences

“That I, too, have learning and thinking differences.”

“I want them to know that my child’s life and my life is not so easy. I have really long days and sometimes I’m not home with my daughter to help her with homework. I do the best I can.”

“In general, you never know what the parent is feeling or even what kind of day they had before they got to the conference. Speaking with understanding and truly listening is essential to any teacher/therapist-parent relationship.”

“I wish they knew what I do as ‘therapist’ at home, when I really just want to be ‘mom.’ As much as I want to support them, I have little to no time to continue the daily curriculum at home.”

“That we wear our raw nerves on the outside of our bodies, as much as our hearts on our sleeves. Even though I know what I’m doing, I DREAD any parent-teacher conference.”

What gets discussed at the conferences

“I wish we had more time. I almost never feel like I have a chance to ask any questions, because the entire time is taken up with going over his grades for the quarter and discussing his behavior. Yes, I want to talk about those things, but I also have my own questions.”

“It may be easy to throw a bunch of standardized test scores at me, but I can read those at home. I need to talk to you about your class and your teaching and how my kid is reacting to it.”

“That we are interested in more than just what’s on the IEP.”

“How scary it is to walk into those meetings. That we need to hear more than our child’s struggles. That we are partners on this journey.”

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