By: Brenda Robinson
I’ve learned a little technique to lighten up and create a more positive setting for the parent-teacher interview. It’s a good technique for parents, but I think it could be reversed for teachers too!
As parent-teacher interview time approaches, plan for a positive interaction. This has not always been easy in our family because although our children are wonderful to us, they have not always been academically awe inspiring or wonderful in terms of school behavior standards. The parent-teacher interview has most often been used to discuss these lapses or short comings. I had learned to dread them, often ending up feeling defensive and less worthy as a parent. Quite often I had to admit that I didn’t know what they were talking about (I had probably heard the story from a child’s perspective). I was also unaware of several of the issues at hand (my children had perhaps forgotten to tell me the whole story). Furthermore, I was forced to admit that I didn’t know what to do about it. (Most of the sins had already been committed and I felt immensely incapable of changing the past). Worse than that, I felt frustrated at not being able to talk about the future except for being asked to make promises that I was uncertain I could make my children live up to. Most of all, I felt protective, annoyed and not listened to. Why couldn’t other people realize just how wonderful these children are?
Then another Mom shared her secret with me. It seems her children’s academic achievement was not always awe inspiring either. Now I plan differently.
Before I go to the parent-teacher interview, I sit down with the child in question and ask for information to take with me. A most recent situation involved Chris, my “not working” up to his potential, sometimes classroom trouble maker, but otherwise brilliant son.
“Chris, I need to ask you an important question”. I start out to get his attention. “Tell me, before I go to the parent-teacher interview, what do you like best about Miss French”?
Chris stares at me and I want to check the mirror for foreign objects on my face. “Go ahead”, I said, “Tell me what you like best about Miss French”?
“Are you kidding me, Mom”? He whines in a voice of incredulous doubt. “There is nothing to like about Miss French. Wait until you meet her – you won’t like her either”.
Not to be deterred, I push a little bit by saying, “Chris, I’m not asking for a dozen references – I just want to know what you like about Miss French – there must be something positive”.
“Mom”, he says patiently. “You must be conducting some kind of research and I don’t want to be a part of it. Miss French gave me a 32 in Science. She has phoned here three times already to say I’m being inappropriate in class. There is nothing I can tell you”.
This is going to be harder than I had anticipated. But, I’m determined to try my new technique.
“Please, Chris”, I plead, Think really hard – there must be something positive you can tell me. You’ve been in her class for three months”.
Almost in exasperation he says slowly, “Well, when you forget you pen or your calculator, Miss French has extras she’ll lend out for the class. I forget stuff a lot, so I like that about her”.
“That’s great Chris”, I tell him. “That’s all I need – I’ll let you know what happens”.
That evening I set off for the school gym and the parent-teacher interview with a lighter heart and a more positive outlook.
I lined up to see Miss French. Judging by the length of the line and the expression on the faces of the parents and Miss French, I decided that Chris was not the only difficult student she had. It’s amazing how quickly we fall into “Misery loves company”.
Finally, it was my turn. I slipped into the parent chair and extended my hand.
“I’m Chris’s Mom”, I said.
Miss French nodded her head and extended to me a sincere look of sympathy – or was it empathy. Then, I began to follow through on my plan. I said to Miss French, “Before I came here tonight I sat down and talked to Chris. I asked him what he likes best about you and about being in you class. Do you know what he said”?
I’m not certain, but I think her mouth dropped open and I heard an audible gasp for breath. She was not expecting this approach. She didn’t reply.
I went on and said to her, “Chris told me that what he likes best about you is that when he forgets a pen or his calculator, you will lend him one for class. He appreciates that and I want you to know that his Dad and I appreciate that too. Now, before we go on, will you tell me, what is it you like best about Chris”?
After a long pause and some reflection, she finally said, “Chris has a great sense of humor and he writes clearly and naturally”. I agreed with her and for the next fifteen minutes we talked mostly about Chris’ writing skills – his creativity, his vocabulary and his delightful sense of humor.
Towards the end of my fifteen minute time slot we agreed that Chris needed to spend some dedicated time catching up on Chapters 12 – 15 in his Science text. I also agreed to post the list of assigned deadlines she gave me on the fridge and help remind Chris to get his assignments in on time. I found out he was doing the assignments well – he just kept forgetting to hand them in.
That evening when I went home, I told Chris all about our conversation. I told him about the good things Miss French said about his writing skills, his creativity and his sense of humor. We talked about deadlines. A few weeks later, Chris told me that he showed Miss French a science fiction story he had written. He said she read it to the class. I didn’t hear from Miss French that term, but Chris’ mark went up to 58. At the next interview, she told me that Chris got nearly all of his assignments in on time.
What a difference a positive approach can make. My children are now used to it. When the date nears for parent-teacher interviews, they often say:
“We know Mom, you want to know what I like about Mr. Mackey. It wasn’t easy, but I have thought of a few things for you. Let me know what he says – I could be doing better in his class”.
All of us in our liaison with our children’s learning environment could benefit from a more positive approach. Plan for a positive exchange and you may be pleased at the positive results. Lighten up your approach and look forward to the parent-teacher interview.