I was seated in a child-sized chair in front of my son’s kindergarten teacher. My palms were sweaty from a mixture of nerves and anxiety. I dreaded parent-teacher conferences more than the annual performance reviews at my job. And it was pretty obvious.
It turns out I didn’t have a reason to be worried. My son was a good student — helpful, bright, and kind. And he was performing well. But there was one thing: He was often the instigator when kids started goofing off in class. I quickly apologized for that and let his teacher know I’d talk to him about that at home.
When my daughter started school a few years later, I thought I had parent-teacher conferences all figured out. Or at least somewhat. I assumed I’d hear similar reports to my son’s. But instead, I got examples of my daughter’s work and assurances she was doing great. And her behavior? “She’s a doll,” her teacher would say.
For a while, the feedback reflected what I saw at home. So I never considered asking any of their teachers any follow-up questions. My son breezed through what little homework he had. My daughter struggled to finish hers but eventually got through it. My son was outgoing and extroverted. My daughter was reserved and introverted.
It wasn’t until I began noticing my daughter’s reading struggles that I started to wonder if something was wrong. During reading time together, my daughter would skip over a few words here and there. And she would guess at others. I’d get angry and tell her she wasn’t trying hard enough. She’d then slam the book shut and refuse to read anymore. I knew I needed to do something.
The round of spring parent-teacher conferences was approaching. So I started preparing questions to ask my daughter’s second-grade teacher. One of them was, “Do you think my daughter is falling behind?”
Her teacher shared the results from one reading assessment, and they left me speechless. My daughter scored at a kindergarten level for phonics and vocabulary. I could feel the tears forming as I glanced at the results. Her teacher assured me not to worry. But I couldn’t let go of the feeling that something was wrong.
So, at the start of the new school year, I set out to get answers. I scheduled time to talk with my daughter’s now third-grade teacher. After a few meetings, I agreed to have my daughter evaluated for a learning disability. We soon discovered my daughter had dyslexia.
I was angry. “How long has she been struggling?” My daughter’s previous teachers never said anything about her trouble with reading. But I also hadn’t been asking those tough questions.
See, I went into those parent-teacher conferences all wrong. I wanted my children to be considered “perfect” students. And to get praised for their intelligence and behavior. I viewed glowing remarks from their teachers as a sign that I was a great parent.
I didn’t ask the tough questions. I didn’t explain what was happening at home, like the homework battles and the tears. I rushed through meetings with teachers instead of calmly discussing how we could partner together to help my kids make better progress.
My kids are in middle school now, and parent-teacher conferences are optional. And while that would’ve been a dream come true for me in the past, I still sign up for these meetings. I now know that working with my kids’ teachers, despite the tough conversations, is the best way to set up my kids for success.