The five-minute parent-teacher interview

Maximizing your minimal time

Picture the parent-teacher interviews you’ve been attending all through elementary school. It’s just you and the teacher in your child’s classroom, looking at samples of your child’s work and discussing his progress in a private and fairly unhurried fashion. Now say goodbye to that picture because somewhere between grades seven and nine, depending on your province, the interview is going to change.

For one thing, your child will probably have four to eight teachers, each with several classes of students. Because they have so many students, teachers have to keep the interviews short — maybe 10 minutes, by high school maybe five. And while some schools still hold the interviews in the teacher’s classrooms (have fun finding them all!), others station all the teachers alphabetically in the gym. There, you line up and wait your turn — first come, first served. For, say, a math teacher, the line can be dauntingly long.

Now if your child is thriving in school (and all you have to say is, “Hi, I’m Joe’s mom. Glad to meet you. Are there any problems I don’t know about?”), then this situation works well. But if you or the teacher has concerns about your child’s progress, then it’s not ideal. Janet Walsh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Home and School Associations, and Sylvia Bishop, assistant director of the BC Teachers’ Federation, offer the following tips for a productive interview.

Be prepared. Go in with a list of your child’s teachers and their subjects, any information you want teachers to have about your child, and any specific questions you want to address. And, suggests Walsh, this may sound funny, but it’s not a bad idea to bring along a photo of your child. Why? Read on.

Be realistic. If this is your child’s first year with this teacher, 2½ months of one class a day is not going to give the teacher an in-depth relationship with her. “The teacher knows her on paper,” explains Walsh. “He can say, ‘Oh, yes, Emily is always on time, her assignments are up to date, and here are her marks.’ But he may not be able to really place her just from the name. Quite often a picture can be helpful.”

Prioritize. You may not have time to talk with all of your child’s teachers, so figure out who is most important to see and get in line! If your child tends to struggle in math, for example, make sure you touch base with the math teacher.

Be open to the teacher’s feedback. Bishop says she asks, “What do I need to know?” Once you understand the situation, a good follow-up question is “What can I do?” Understand that reporting the not-so-great news about your child’s progress or behaviour is part of the teacher’s job too, and try not to react defensively, adds Walsh. You need that information to understand how your child is doing.

Schedule separate meetings for big concerns. Walsh points out that mid-November is halfway through a high school semester, so if you are aware of early difficulties with your child’s progress, don’t save them up for the parent-teacher interview. “That’s way too late,” she suggests. Similarly, if you become aware of serious problems during the interview, suggest a follow-up meeting in a setting where you have more time and privacy.

Finally, make an effort to be patient and positive even if the gym is hot and the wait is long. “As a teacher, I did back-to-back 10-minute interviews from 1 p.m. to 9. It makes a very long day,” says Bishop. Remember, you and the teacher are partners who both have your child’s best interests at heart.

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