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 The Massachusetts Child

Works 4 Me

Parent-Teacher Night tips from MTA members

We asked local teachers to think back to their own not-so-long-ago first conferences and share a bit of what they learned.

"On my Back-to School night, I posted an agenda on my board so parents can see what we were going to talk about," said Kristen Baker,  a third and fourth grade teacher in Arlington. "This helped to prevent some parents from trying to turn it into a conference about their child. It also helped me so that I didn't spend too much time on one topic."

"I would say that it is most important to be yourself. Let parents see how much you truly love their kids, and your job," said Gwynne MacFadyen Sawtelle an English teacher at Westborough High School. "But also be professional. I hand out a copy of my syllabus -- and tell them where I got my education."

"The most memorable experience that I've had during a parent conference was having several parents come up to me in my first year of teaching to tell me that they were astonished that I had no trace of an accent in my speech and to ask me how long I have been in this country," said teacher Henry Moon.  "Being a first generation Korean-American who was born and raised in Southern California, I was a little taken aback. My first reaction was indignation, but after the third time, I sort of laughed it off. I wasn't about to start a major situation in my first year."

Moon, who is currently working at Weston High School, is still surprising parents: "My best conference was when I set up a boombox with classical music playing in the hallway during the parents' 'passing time,' " he recalls. "Some liked it, some thought it pretentious, but everyone commented on it."

Ten Quick Tips for Parent-Teacher Nights:

1. Prepare in advance to answer specific questions parents may have about their child's ability, skill levels and achievements.

2. Get organized! Assemble your grade book, test scores, student work samples and attendance records.

3. Greet parents at the door. Check records in advance to make sure you have parents' (or stepparents' or guardians') names correct.

4. Open on a positive note. Start with a positive statement about the student's abilities, work or interests.

5. Allow enough time in the conferences. Give yourself a short break in between conferences, if possible.

6. Avoid physical barriers. Don't sit behind your desk or ask parents to perch on tiny chairs.

7. Be specific in your comments and suggested course of action.

8. Forget the jargon. Try not to use "edubabble" because it sounds like doubletalk to most parents.

9. Ask for parents' opinions. Hear them out, even if the comments are hostile or negative.

10. Be clear if there are concrete steps for follow-up-required phone contact, interim progress reports, etc.