As was said earlier, parents are very familiar with your environment. To understand the dynamics of a conference, it’s important for you to be familiar with theirs. There is an enduring impression among teachers that our kids come from an environment that has become known as the nuclear family. In the nuclear family, dad is the wage earner and mom the homemaker waiting at the door with a smile and hug when the kids come home.
The facts are that half of the marriages in America end in divorce, and half of our children will have gone through that wrenching experience by the time they are 18. Twenty-six percent of all families with children under 18 are headed by single parents and over 84 percent of those by mothers. These mothers often work outsides the home and are not around until hours after the kids return from school. For single parent fathers, 90 percent are working. Even in two-parent families, 64 percent of the mothers work. Unfortunately, the situation seems destined to get worse.
It is this wrong impression of reality on our part which often causes us to paint parents into corners. Our lack of understanding of the parents’ problems leads to friction and unpleasant confrontations. Whether rightfully so or not, most parents feel guilty for not providing the idealistic nuclear family setting for their kids. So, it’s unusual for a parent to begin a conference by telling you their problems. The result is that we teachers often suggest ways for parents to help their kids while the mother sits in silence knowing she won’t be home to do it. It is tragic that many kids in this generation are literally raising themselves.
Parents do want to help, though. They do care about their children, We must, however, recognize that their lives are encumbered with a thousand other, unavoidable distractions. Don’t launch into a mind-numbing monologue about the curriculum, the class, your expectations, Johnny’s performance and on and on. Rather, your approach during the parent-teacher conference should be that in order to be a better teacher for Johnny, you would like to know him a perspective that only mom and dad have.
“Does Karen talk about school when she gets home?”
“When and/or where does Paul do his homework?”
“Do you think Stephanie has been satisfied with her work this year?”
“Does Chris have many friends at home?”
Questions like these don’t pry into things the parent might think are none of your business, such as family life or work hours. However, once you shift the discussion to the home, you will frequently learn much more than your questions asked for. Also, we can’t ever hope to understand our students until we know something about their lives outside school. Once you have some feeling for the family setting, you can make intelligent suggestions about how the parents might help.
Go to “Giving Advice to Parents“