How to ace your parent-teacher interview

What to ask, what not to do and other tips to help you get the most out of your 15 minutes.
Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

As someone who sits in the mini-chairs on both sides of the table (as both a teacher and a parent), I know how valuable yet challenging interviews can be. Communication and cooperation between home and school really helps keep your child’s learning on track, but since interview time with the teacher can be limited, you do need
to come prepared.

1. Get in touch ASAP
Don’t wait until the formal meeting to share concerns with your child’s teacher or let worries stew for weeks, thinking you can only talk at interview time. Email the teacher or make use of your child’s school agenda to share information, ask questions or arrange a phone call or face-to-face conversation. This can be especially beneficial if interviews are student-led conferences, where the kids share their work with you and you may not get a chance to speak privately with the teacher.

2. Come prepared
Not only should you read over the report card before the interview—I see that still-sealed envelope peeking out of your purse!—but you should also take a few minutes to discuss it with your child. That conversation may answer some of your questions and spark a few to ask the teacher. Jennifer Neale*, a teacher in Summerside, PEI, recommends writing questions down so there’s no worry of forgetting in the moment.

3. Confirm the guest list
Double-check that your child is invited—or perhaps expected—to attend the interview. If possible, leave younger siblings at home; otherwise, Neale suggests bringing something to occupy the little ones so you aren’t distracted—or, if I can be honest here, so they don’t destroy the classroom.

4. Lead with the good stuff
We try to do this as teachers, and it’s greatly appreciated when parents have something complimentary to say about their child’s education as well. Did your child come home with a funny anecdote? Did you appreciate a recent field trip, event or special effort the teacher made? Positive, sincere feedback really helps build the parent-teacher relationship. “Good teachers will do just about anything to see their students succeed, and I can assure you that some love, gratitude and patience during an interview, especially a difficult one, is appreciated,” adds Amanda Jones*, a kindergarten teacher in North Battleford, Sask. And while, of course, teachers are much too professional to accept bribes, it definitely brightened my mood when a mom thoughtfully brought me a hot chocolate on a cold interview night.

5. Ask away
Sometimes it’s hard to go into detail on a report card or in a brief interview about how your child is really doing. Teachers have to summarize, so be sure to ask clarifying questions, advises Jones. Think of it like a doctor’s appointment, where you need to broach the most important topic first and not save it for the end when we may run out of time. The top questions I ask my girls’ teachers relate to their behaviour and mood—it’s never too early to be on top of mental health issues. I also like to find out what concepts or skills we should work on at home.

6. No divorce talk
While it’s helpful for teachers to know about family dynamics and issues that may be going on at home, you want to spend the majority of your time talking about your child’s education, not oversharing about what a bad parent your ex is. If you and your ex can actually attend the interview together, it’s a bonus for your child—keeping everyone on the same page is crucial.

7. Don’t bash other teachers
It can be valuable to share past experiences, both good and bad, but try not to name names or put us in the awkward position of having a negative conversation about our fellow teachers or administrators. Try using general terms. For instance, instead of, “It was ridiculous how Mr. Blake never gave notice for tests last year!” you could say, “Jesse has found it challenging in the past when tests were announced on short notice, so we’d really appreciate it if you could tell him a few days in advance so he can properly prepare.”

8. Be honest
It’s important to speak openly, whether it’s about how much your kid is struggling with homework, your comfort level with the curriculum or your child’s health and special needs. I was saddened to see a tweet where a mom asked about a place to get her child assessed without informing the school about her concerns. I’ve never seen a situation where hiding things helped a child’s education. Plus, teachers can offer a valuable perspective—they’ve worked with hundreds of kids and helped them through countless issues.

9. Trust the teacher
“It is so hard, especially in a digital world, to avoid turning to the Internet for solutions or even asking other parents how to fix a struggle your child is having,” notes Jones. “But your kid’s teacher knows your kid.” Stay focused during the interview, listen to the teacher’s suggestions and truly give them a try—even if Google told you something else! Teachers are professionals and will seek help to give your child the best education. Trust them.” That’s not to say you can’t share your research with the teacher. In fact, the interview is a great time to bring up something you’ve read or heard to spark a discussion and get the teacher’s input, personalized to your child.

10. Advocate respectfully
As parents, we’re encouraged to speak up for our kids, and those whose children have special needs feel a particular pressure to ensure those needs are being met. It’s OK to be a “squeaky wheel” parent, but helpful requests and reminders regarding your child’s education will be better received if they’re tempered with gratitude and positivity. Remember that word choice, tone of voice and body language can communicate respect along with your message.

*Names have been changed

More tips:
– Arrive on time. If you’re late, expect a shorter interview.
– Turn off your phone. “Unplug and connect with the teacher,” says Amanda Jones*, a kindergarten teacher in North Battleford, Sask.
– Ask for a rain check if necessary. With so many interviews in one night, I’m actually happy to spread them out and speak to  parents at other times, whether in person or on the phone.
– Stay focused on your child. “Avoid comparing your child to another in the class or in your family,” advises Jones. “Each student comes with their own unique abilities and personality.”
– 
Remember to follow up with your kid afterward. Share with them the things you learned, as well as how you will support and help him with learning at home in the months ahead.  And also ask for suggestions.


Read more:

What to do when you don’t like your child’s teacher>
Classroom confidential: Teachers’ tips for parents>
7 things kindergarten teachers want you to know>

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