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Getting Ahead with Fall Conferences

Parents and students can feel worried at the start of a school year. There is a lot of uncertainly about what lies ahead, and this can be particularly nerve-wracking when a child has experienced difficulty during past academic years. You don’t have to hold your breath and hope for the best every September, though. Asking for a conference with your child’s teacher is a good way to head off problems before they become major concerns. Your child’s teacher will also be better able to plan for the year if she knows about challenges that need to be accommodated.

Conferences don’t need to be lengthy, and they don’t need to delve into any detail that you’re not comfortable discussing openly. Don’t try to fit in a hallway conference at back-to-school night or morning drop-off, though; time is tight for teachers at these times, and privacy is impossible to guarantee. Aim instead for a 15 to 20 minute chat at a mutually agreeable time. Some schools will even proactively offer conference times at the start of the school year.

What qualifies as conference-worthy? It is worthwhile to bring up any social, medical, or academic concern that you believe may create challenges for your child this year. Despite rumors of “permanent records,” teachers often don’t know much about the children joining their classrooms; administrators and teachers are increasingly concerned about unfairly prejudicing children’s new teachers by over-sharing about their past history. School personnel also vary a great deal in their opinions about what is relevant information to share with other teachers about past students.

If your child has a documented disability or health impairment, information from health forms or from forms on file with the school counselor will usually be shared with classroom teachers. However, the detail included in these reports can vary. Teachers will not necessarily know what accommodations have been made for a child in the past and which of those accommodations has worked particularly well (or not well). You have the opportunity to share a more complete story about what has been helpful and what has been challenging for your child. Not only do such narratives help teachers to be empathetic, they help teachers to be more effective too.

Even if your child does not have a documented disability, it is still worthwhile discussing challenges that your family finds significant. Teachers can act to implement accommodations faster when they can anticipate potential challenges. They may also want to know when a particular sign or symptom is concerning enough to a family that it merits communication with parents.

If you haven’t yet tried it, consider a start-of-year conference as a way to get the parent-teacher relationship started off well. It might even help your child to have a better fall.


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