I meant for this to be my March/April post since that’s when this semester’s interviews took place at my school. However, other priorities have taken over since then in my professional and personal life, and this blog got put on the backburner. Now that the semester has wound down, I’m finding some time to catch up.
Even though I’m now four full years into the teaching profession, I still get those nervous butterflies on Parent Teacher Interview night. My nervousness is completely unfounded as I have not yet had a negative experience in a parent interview. I’ve had a nagging insecurity since I began teaching that parents and my older colleagues will not take me seriously as a new teacher – that I’ll be seen as an amateur rather than an expert. Despite not having encountered any situations where that has been the case, I still take a proactive approach to meeting parents in order to project as professional an image as possible. Here are my tips for successful parent-teacher conferences.
1. Look the Part
Teaching is a profession, so it’s important to dress in a professional manner, especially when meeting parents. Some teachers only ever dress up for parent meetings and argue that the students should respect you as a teacher regardless of what you’re wearing. I can understand and appreciate this argument, but I personally choose to dress up for work every day and usually with a little extra if I have an important meeting with administration or with a parent. Certainly appearances aren’t everything – if you can’t back up your professional attire with appropriate behaviour, extensive subject knowledge, and caring for your students, then parents will see right through you. But looking the part does make a strong positive impression, and it demands a certain level of respect. It shows that you put in some time and energy in preparing for the interview and that you therefore deem it to be an important meeting.
2. Be Prepared
Since parents make appointments for interview night, it’s important to have a mark printout and talking points ready. Again, this is the professional thing to do, and it once more shows that you deem this conference to be important and valuable. As mark printouts can sometimes be difficult to interpret, I take the time to highlight key information, such as the student’s overall average, any very high or very low marks, and weight factors if some assignments/tests are worth more than others. This strategy also helps to calm my nerves as I have a clear, individualized plan of what to speak to for each student. I also make sure to add all of my contact information to the mark printout – phone extension, email address, Twitter account, and class website – so if parents have further questions after the meeting, they can easily get in touch with me again. Finally, I always bring a laptop with me for those inevitable drop-ins so that I can at least show a mark breakdown on the screen.
3. Be Open and Genuine
One thing I’ve found is often the parents are as nervous as I am, especially if their son or daughter is in grade 9 and this is their first set of parent-teacher conferences for high school. Coming into the interview with a defensive attitude only makes the parents defensive as well and sets a terrible tone for the meeting. Be open to their questions, and be genuine in your responses. Just remember the most important thing that you and the parents have in common – you both want the best for their son/daughter. Use that common care and interest as a foundation for the interview and you won’t go wrong!