What SHOULD you be asking at a conference?

With conferences coming up, you may be wondering what’s the best way to use your 15 minutes with the teacher.  Kelly Wickham, an assistant principal at a magnet school for technology in the Midwest, wrote a blog for Babble with conversation starters to help parents get specific information they need about how their children are doing academically. Here is her advice.

From Babble:

“For Parents:

“1. What are the skills my child will be expected to learn this year and how is she doing so far? If she masters them, will she be challenged with other material? You can go into the learning styles of your child – kinesthetic, visual, auditory – to help understand the how of their learning new material. If you know what the skills are, you will know what they can work on at home.

“2. How is progress monitored in your classroom and what do you do when my child doesn’t learn the material? How does this affect their grade? Speaking of grades, ask teachers what percentage tests, quizzes, in-class assignments, and homework is worth. This is key. This also opens up the door to discuss classroom accommodations or what we call RtI, a Response to Intervention. Also, ask if organizational issues are part of the overall grades because THEY SHOULD NOT BE. If students are learning how to do something they ought not be penalized harshly for it.

“3. How much classroom time is used to get ready for State and local assessments that you have to give? Do these things line up with the State Standards or the Common Core? Good assessments don’t take time away from intended learning just so you can have students ready to pass the test, but address the skills that students need to master by age-appropriate time at each grade level.”

Our elementary school has conferences for every child. Our middle school doesn’t do conferences for every child. If your child is having trouble of if you request it they will see you. I’m not sure how Walsh’s new school is going to handle conferences but they are very available via email if you have questions.

Do you find conferences to be useful or are you talking to the teacher already if your child is having problems?

28 comments Add your comment


October 10th, 2013
4:27 am

I know you have a lot of detractors and trolls, but this is an EXCELLENT topic for this forum. It would also be great for a cross-post with Maureen.


October 10th, 2013
5:10 am

Agree with @Beck. Sometimes the topics here are light and fluffy. This is a great one and I can’t wait to see responses since we have conference next Tuesday!

OMG!!! That bowling ball is my wife!!!!

October 10th, 2013
5:26 am

You should be asking does your coffee make your fat!


October 10th, 2013
6:08 am

What TV shows are you watching?
What awards does my kid have a chance at winning?
What kind of coffee is that you are drinking, and can I have a taste?
Can my boy bring a cooler into classroom, so he won’t be so hungry when he gets home?
Can I inspect your phone to make sure it is compliant to the “Moms with phones glued to their ears” standard?
Can my kids bring pillows?
Did the boy say anything about the nice policeman visiting our house last night?…or anything about dad being naked and wearing a spike dog collar in the back seat of the nice policeman’s car?
Do you mind if I call the boy’s father to make sure that he vacuumed the den….or his testicles will pay?

Who let the dogs in

October 10th, 2013
6:10 am

Who let the dogs in

October 10th, 2013
6:11 am

Oh I know…..Ask who cut the cheese.

Cold Tuna T Shirt Smell

October 10th, 2013
6:14 am

I would ask if paying $20 for an ounce of wrinkle cream is worth it.


October 10th, 2013
6:38 am

Conferences…if possible it is wonderful to have DAD go to the conference ( without Mom). This shows that he is interested. YES you will survive even if he does not tell you everything you think you might need to know.

I had a parent ( who owned a restaurant) bring me a large salad at conference time. I REALLY appreciated it as I was stuck in that room without any food. I did this for other teachers. I did NOT bring home made goodies, as I do not like them. Pick something up, if you feel inclined. NO you do not have to do this but it does show that you are thinking of the teacher and he/she may appreciate it more than a Christmas candle or ornament. My daughter’s third grade teacher still reminds me of how this brightened her day.

Questions… What is one thing, as parent, I can do to help my child this year….be honest.
What are my child’s strong areas…weak areas?
Is my child working up to his/her potential?

# 3 is making me laugh as I hear lots of schools are so worried about the assessments that they cannot think of anything else. I had a principal cancel my monthly Kinder shows as she said,
… We cannot afford to waste 30 minutes per month…we have common core to think about….
The teachers tried their best to change her mind but it was futile.

I am thinking:
30 minutes per month is about 7-8 minutes per week or less than 2 minutes per day. I am SURE they waste 2 minutes per day on many other things that do not involve language to literacy.
Luckily, I have replaced their slot with other schools.

You wait 2 minutes for everyone to use the bathroom ( while chatting with another teacher) or if a parent comes in to ask a question.

I know teachers who have retired over all of the hassles with assessments and these are good teachers. SAD day for sure.

Mother of 2

October 10th, 2013
6:51 am

Great list of questions to ask. I would also ask how my child is doing socially, I.e. does he share, talk out of turn, etc. I used to ask the teacher to recommend several books or authors that would be good for supplemental reading. If you are new to an area, what places should you be taking your children to visit that support this year’s units of study. Even if you aren’t new to the area, you might be surprised by the answer to this type of question.


October 10th, 2013
7:10 am

@ Mother of 2…good ideas!


October 10th, 2013
7:30 am

We basically approached it much the same as a “performance evaluation” in that we asked the teachers to explain the goals and objectives, asked what we, as parents, could do to assist, and then asked for any risks or concerns, if any, from both the teachers’ perspectives as well as ours.
This seemed to work quite well. And @MJG, as the father, I never once missed a parent-teacher conference. We always went together so I don’t exactly agree that I should have gone alone.


October 10th, 2013
7:58 am

@ Me…if you go with your wife…that is amazing. My hat is off to you.

Some women try to take over the conversation and thus the teacher does not really get to know the Dad. When I taught, I saw this quite often and know that I too would do most of the talking if we went together, so I asked my husband to go alone. Teachers are usually pretty good at reading people and sometimes they can see which strengths and weaknesses come from which parent ( if they have them one on one) . I was a much better student than my husband but he is far SUPERIOR at technology and projects for class.

HAHA…I once had a DAD say he was coming to the conference ( presumably to give me the WHAT FOR).. After we chatted and I carefully explained the problem ( with another adult in there with me) …his WIFE was the one who got the WHAT FOR. Hmmmm….


October 10th, 2013
8:22 am

“You wait 2 minutes for everyone to use the bathroom ( while chatting with another teacher) or if a parent comes in to ask a question.”

So you think they should skip bathroom breaks for a month to make time for your program?


October 10th, 2013
8:49 am

You should ask, “How can I get involved in my child’s education? What can I do to help improve their learning abilities? How can I help you teach my child?” and similar questions. Teachers love it when the parents are really involved and concerned about their children’s education, and not just leave it up to the teachers to handle it. The teacher is not a babysitter. The teacher is not a replacement parent. The teacher is just one of many tools in the upbringing of your child. The most important tool is YOU.

Something else to ask: “How can I help my child apply what they are learning, or how can I help them understand how what they’re learning/have learned is applied in the real world?” Many students fail or barely pass because they aren’t taught to apply what they’ve learned anywhere other than in the classroom. For example, if a child is learning a certain function in math, where the question “When will I ever have to use *this*?” is often asked, demonstrate how that function is applied in the real world. Yes, there are word problems that provide simple scenarios, but how often do you come across two friends, one with three apples, the other with seven, and one gives the other their apples? I don’t recall a single time that’s been done, except maybe at a fruit stand. But, if your child is learning something like percentages, then you can demonstrate how it’s applied in the real world, such as adding 7% for sales tax to the total grocery bill, figuring out a price when a “25% off” sale is advertised, and other similar real-world scenarios.

I once had an RCA TV that had its own on-screen TV guide, I think run by TV Guide. On many episodes of “Sesame Street”, the description read what the episode was about, then gave a “Parent Tip”, with something like an arts-and-crafts project, or somehow applying the lesson from the episode. One dealt with Baby Bear wanting to send an e-mail, and computers in general. The Parent Tip suggested taking your child on errands and show how computers are used daily, with things like the cash register at the grocery store, the ATM machine at the bank, and other places.


October 10th, 2013
8:59 am

Well since I do check the grades online and see the grades that come home in the back pack. I don’t need to hear how she is doing because I already see it.

I need to understand what new information the teacher will bring to the table that I have not/could not go get on my own. It is a waste of time to sit in a meeting where they read to me off something they then give me a copy to keep. I CAN read. (My previous boss did awesome wth my reviews. She would hand me the paper and say here read this and tell me what YOU want to talk about or what you need more information on.)

Conferences should actually only be scheduled if the parent requests or if the student is in the “danger zone” otherwise they are a waste of everyones time. I am not interested in a long term relationship with the teacher so I do not need “face time.”

@ Shaggy….I LOVE THAT LIST. I may print it and take it to the mandatory conference next week.


October 10th, 2013
9:02 am

@ Patrick, I agree that the parent needs to be involved that is why I check all the data that comes home. I email the teacher when I have a question. I respond when emailed by the teacher. I am absolutely in favor of working with the teacher. I just don’t think these 15 min meetings are the way to accomplish it.


October 10th, 2013
9:26 am

@FCM – There’s only so much you can accomplish with e-mails and other computerized data that reflects your child’s performance. When you attend an actual, face-to-face, parent-teacher conference, you can learn a whole lot more about your child’s educational environment. You can see the personality of the teacher more up close. You can see what the child sees on a daily basis. Most parent-teacher conferences take place in the classroom, at, or in the vicinity of, the child’s assigned seat in the classroom. The parent can see what their child sees. This can validate claims from the child, everything from not being able to see the chalkboard well, to other students throwing things at them, and anything in between. They can see if there is anything that could interrupt or distract their child from learning, and offer suggestions on how to remedy these interruptions or distractions.

I used to complain to my parents that I had a hard time seeing the chalkboard when I was in 2nd Grade. My parents thought my eyesight was going bad, so they took me to an eye doctor and get an eye exam. My eyes tested out normal. I told them I was sitting in the far back of the classroom, and that made it hard to see the chalkboard. When my mom went to talk to the teacher, she sat where I sat, and came home that evening and apologized. The next day, the teacher moved me to the second row of the classroom, making it easier to see the chalkboard.

Real Life

October 10th, 2013
9:33 am

Patrick has excellent ideas. The info from the “Babble” blog is all about what the teacher is doing. Education is not just in the classroom. A good education involves the teacher, student and appropriate parental support. When I first started teaching parents regularly asked what they should be doing to support their children–what activities might help, what discussions would encourage growth, etc. When I retired that question had almost vanished from parent-teacher conferences. It was a gradual but noticeable decline in the 20 years that I taught high school. Whether it was at these quarterly teacher conferences or at conferences held at either the parents’ or my request, the question about parental help simply began to die out.


October 10th, 2013
9:40 am

#1 most important question you can ask yourself- What can I do to get my child into the best private school I can afford?


October 10th, 2013
10:18 am

@ HB…NO…I have seen teachers standing the hallway, with the entire class, chatting.
Sorry that was not clear.

My point was that I think everyone I know, wastes at least 2 minutes each day, including me.

Some of us waste it here…haha! But it does add to a bit of variety.

Yay Patrick!


October 10th, 2013
10:22 am

@ Patrick, I will certainly keep that in mind when I go to my conference. I have told this story about my left handed child: She was seated next to a child also at a desk. My child was at the right hand side of the 2 desks. The other child was right handed. I was at the Open House and asked the teacher why she had not moved Susie so her arm would not hit the other child (right and left elbow tangle). She said well Susie does her work in her lap not her desk. I looked right at the teacher and said do you think that is why you keep telling me her penmanship is not good? Or that she gets distracted by what is in her desk? The teacher said well if Susie would tell me she needs a new seat… I said um, Susie is 9! She is a child. Move the kid. It took over a week but she got her seat moved and those “issues” went away like magic. I have been in the rooms for both my children this year. I do that at Open House, so I feel I have seen what my child sees.

@ Real Life…I DO ask that question. As soon as I know who the children’s teachers are, I ask them what I can do to help Susie and Sallie be successful.

I do partner with both the teachers and more importantly the Counselor/Asst Principal at the school. Here is why I say more important: those 2 people will be with my child for the whole time they are in the school. The teacher is there for a term (MS) or the year (ES) they are important for the moment (although what they teach may last a lifetime) but in reality in the following term/year we start all over again.


October 10th, 2013
11:39 am

I go to all conferences, but it’s a weird dynamic. My kids both go to my wife’s school. I’m sitting there with my wife and her co-worker. They have unintentional coded discussion about standards and how my kids are doing, and I have to ask for translation.

It’s nuts. Looking forward to middle school.


October 10th, 2013
12:02 pm

FCM – The problem with going only once a year is that you’re seeing what your child’s seeing at that point of the school year. I’m not a parent, but as a former student, I can’t count the number of times any of my teachers have rearranged the seating charts of their classes throughout the school year. For a couple of months I might be sitting towards the back of the classroom, then I’ll move towards the front, then I might be stuck somewhere in the middle, then the front again, then in the back again. Other times the layout of the desks could change. On the night of Open House, the desks could be arranged as you mentioned, but three months later, the teacher could have chosen a different arrangement.


October 10th, 2013
1:13 pm

My husband has never missed a conference or curriculum night. Our 2nd grader is dyslexic so we have lots of questions. I will keep these in mind for next week’s conference. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in the dyslexia part of things (ie trying to tackle one hurdle at a time) that we forget to ask questions about the overall educational goals.

Based on the comments and suggestions here...

October 10th, 2013
1:29 pm

…I am the perfect husband AND father – YAY me…


October 10th, 2013
4:47 pm

I can guarantee at I’m going to ask a certain teacher why she felt the need to humiliate my child for making a mistake reading a map. The teacher reportedly yelled at my child in front of the entire class for marking her map incorrectly. Pull her aside, work with her, show her the error, all fine. Call her out in front of the entire class? Not a chance. I need to hear teacher’s side of the story which I get address at conferences. It takes a lot to rattle this child and she was pretty upset. I will almost bet she doesn’t even know who my child is and will complain about how many students she has. Don’t care!

OMG!!! That bowling ball is my wife!!!!

October 10th, 2013
5:02 pm

I would ask why there are not any meat scented candles


October 10th, 2013
10:49 pm

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