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Conferring Successfully with Your Child's Teacher

Why Parent-Teacher Conferences?

Today’s teachers realize that report cards and other written evaluations of a child’s performance in school are inadequate to tell parents precisely how that student’s education is progressing.  Besides, the help of parents is needed if the student is to have a happy and productive school experience.

For instance, when teacher and parent confer, the parent may supply information about the child which is useful in helping the child learn.  On the other hand, the teacher may suggest ways that the parents can assist at home to make the educational process easier for the student.

Overall, a person-to-person discussion between teacher and parent provides the setting in which the teacher may come to know the student better and the parent to understand their child’s strengths and weaknesses.  Teachers and parents are natural allies in the effort to give children the best possible education, and they should talk about it occasionally.

Preparing to Confer

The parent-teacher conference requires preparation by both parties.  The teacher probably will collect samples of the student’s work, such as tests or records, and present ideas and impressions of the child.  Here are some tips for the parent’s or guardian’s preparations.

Consider in advance the questions you have for the teacher.  If there are two parents or guardians, both should attend the conference if possible.  If you are worried about the amount or type of homework the student brings home, tell the teacher. If some of your child’s stories about school cause concern, ask about the incidents.  If you have any complaints about the school, air them.  Whatever your inquiries or worries, talk them over with the teacher. If your child’s teacher doesn’t have satisfactory answers for you, he or she can refer you to someone who does.

Bring information to the conference in addition to seeking it.  Your child’s time with the teacher is much shorter than that with you.  Relate your child’s special enthusiasms and interests; talk about your youngster’s relationships with friends; mention things which seem to bore or turn your child off.  The more teachers know about your child both as a student and as an individual, the more they can help your child in school.

Leave the student and any brothers and sisters at home when you go to the parent-teacher conference.  Before meeting the teacher, however, ask your child if there is anything about which you should talk to the teacher.  Use good judgment in reporting back what you learned from the teacher.  Your child may not understand comments or advice from the teacher that have been meant for you and may be hurt or resentful upon hearing them.  For the most part, the parent-teacher conference should remain an adult enterprise.

During the Conference

Beyond the special concerns which you will be prepared to discuss when you and your child’s teacher meet, certain general areas of inquiry are usual.  Questions such as these are often asked by parents and guardians:

“What is my child’s ability level?  Is my child working at that level?”  (The teacher’s answer probably will come in general terms, rather than a specific IQ score or similar measurement, but even a three-level scale such as “poor/average/good” is informative.)

If the school “groups” children roughly by ability, you may want to ask “To which group is my child assigned and what is the basis for that assignment?”

“How is my child doing in reading (math, geography, etc.)?

“Does my child show any particular skills or abilities in schoolwork?”

“How does my child get along with other students?”

“Does my child cause any trouble?”  “Is my child well-behaved and responsive to direction?”  Or, if your child is in the middle grades or higher, “Does my child demonstrate initiative and responsibility in schoolwork?”

The teacher also will have questions to ask. Some of them may be along these lines:

How does your child spend time outside of school?

What are your child’s special interests and abilities?

What does your child say about school?  In particular, what is the student’s attitude toward it?

What are your child’s special interests and abilities?

Does the student have any physical or emotional problems?

Where and how does the student do homework? Does he or she receive help?

Does the student live with rules and responsibilities at home?  What sort of discipline is most effective?

Remember that your child’s teachers are not attempting to pry or interfere.  They, too want to help your child.

Making Use of the Conference

In whatever fashion is easiest for you, keep a brief record of the discussion you have with the teacher so that you may better judge your child’s subsequent progress and also help with whatever problems or concerns have been discovered.

Certain aspects of the conference undoubtedly should be shared in some way with your child.  Discuss relative strengths and weaknesses in your own way, using your own terms.  Suggestions on how to help oneself, or how you can help, should be put forward positively.

Make sure your child understands that talking to the teacher is not meant as “checking up” on him or her but rather as another way to help with school.

Don’t hesitate to ask your child’s teacher for another conference if you feel it is needed, or to call the teacher to learn first hand about your child’s progress.  An interested parent is the educator’s best friend.

After your first parent-teacher conference, you’ll learn to make each successive one more valuable.  The one who is the winner in this cooperative venture is your child.