Thoughts For This Coming School Year
Robert B. Ingram, Ph.D.

When I had children in school, I initially did not look forward to parent-
teacher conferences. And, I notice that today, many parents dread the
contact and some parents avoid it all together. My belief is that to not take
advantage of parent-teacher conferences is a mistake.

The good news is that most of our Miami-Dade County school officials'
welcome parent-teacher conferences. In fact, many host them a couple of
times a year in an effort to involve parents in their children's education.

Unfortunately, some parents feel that if their child is not having problems
then there is no need to be involved in a parent-teacher conference.

Well, my experiences suggest that this is one of the best times to go to your
child's school and meet your child's teacher.My experiences also suggest that there are two types of parent-teacher

One I will call the "PROBLEMATIC" parent-teacher conference, and
The Second I will call the "PLEASANT" parent-teacher conference.
A "PLEASANT" conference will let the teacher know that you are
interested and that you are available in case problems do arise with your

It is an opportunity for you to see what the teacher is like, get an idea of
what goes on in your child's classroom, and maybe even get a new
perspective on your child's strengths and weaknesses.

It also will make you feel more comfortable in the school building and with
the teacher, so if a problem does arise, you'll feel better about coming to the
school to talk about it.

Most of our schools offer conferences at a variety of times during the day
and during the evening, but if you can't come during one of those times, you
should feel free to call and schedule an alternative date and time.

As I stated, initially, I was uncomfortable about coming to my daughters'
school. I was uncomfortable for a couple of reasons: The first reason was
that it had been a long time since I had been in school and the second, and
probably the most profound reason was that my experiences with schools
had not been positive.

During my first experience I was especially uncomfortable and a bit put out
because the teacher had requested the conference and I knew that there was
a problem with one of my children.

But I put my attitude in check and went to the school with the thought of
treating the teacher as I wanted to be treated. You know what? My first
experience turned out to be a favorable one because I ran in to a
"good teacher" who immediately put me at ease.

She was a consummate professional.
The truth is, in fact, most of the teachers I encountered were professional
in their approach to my visits to my children's schools.
So my invitation to those of you who may visit your child 's school is
this - know that a good impression by you can do nothing but help your

I would encourage you to treat the visit with your child's teacher as you
would your visit with another professional, such as your doctor or your

Now, here are some things that I gleaned from Radford University
educational studies Professor Betty Dore, that I think will make your
conference go well.


Be on time. "Even though people all over the world say teachers have it easy, realize that they are very, very busy. They have 25 other students-in some case's 125" other students that they must nurture.

End on time. If your conference is scheduled in a time slot, with others
following you, stay on the subject and, if you need more time, make
another appointment.

This should go without saying, but permit me to say it anyway. Dress
neatly; get rid of the gum; take off that baseball cap. Use common sense in creating a good first impression.

Have questions you want to ask written down. It is okay to carry a pad
and it is okay to take notes.

Be a good listener.

Also make suggestions. You can offer insights into what will work with
your child.


Don't compare your child with other children: ("Bobbie did this and got
an 'A'" - my child did the same thing and got a 'D'"). It is tempting to do
otherwise but let me invite you to be concerned only about your child.

Don't wait until the last minute to make an appointment and then get
bent out of shape if no time slots are available. Call ahead, our teachers
will be glad to work around your schedule.

Don't take other siblings along if you can help it. Three of four brothers
and sisters can be distracting and keep both you and the teacher from
focusing on the child at hand.

Now, I want you to consider this potentially threatening parent-teacher

Your child tells you that a teacher is punishing the whole class for the actions of a few students.

Your child is upset, and you're angry.
You call and demand a conference with the teacher.
When you arrive you are fuming, insulting and blaming the teacher,
principal, administrators and everyone else you can name.
And then, you find out that your child was absolutely, positively - without a
shadow of a doubt wrong. How do you recover?
You've done yourself nor your child any good.
I invite you to consider a strategy that does not alienate the teacher or any of
the people who have a responsibility to care for your child - but a strategy
that is still loyal to your child - remember, the most important reason for
the conference is to accomplish something positive for your child.

First, don't make assumptions. Don't even assume that you are hearing
the whole story from your child? Get his or her side, but be prepared to
hear the teacher's side. When you go to the conference, instead of starting off with "Bobbie said..." Ask: "What is happening?" and "Why?"

That way you set a positive tone for the meeting. Do as I did, go in to the
meeting with a calm, open attitude, You will discover that can only help.

Secondly, you can take your child with you but only if you've checked
with both your child and the teacher to make sure they are comfortable
with that arrangement.

Having your child come along can be a good thing if you are hearing two
very different stories. And, of course, be prepared to offer suggestions if you can.
Some issues may not call for a conference.

One for example is this:

If your child tells you she's had a spat with another child, they probably will have reconciled their differences long before you get to the school for a conference.

However, you should intervene if you think someone may be hurt - either
physically, emotionally.

When else should you, as a parent, request a conference?

I would suggest any time you feel it would be helpful.

If you just want to meet the teachers.

If you have some questions that you need answers too concerning your

If you want the teacher to know you're there and that you're both working
for the child.

If you have any questions about what the teacher is doing in class or what his or her teaching philosophy is.

It is very important that you, as a parent, feel comfortable enough to come
into the school building and talk - especially when nothing is wrong!
Work with us as we work with you to move our children from "A" to "triple
A"- and lets have a marvelous school year.

To contact Dr. Ingram, please call 305-995-1340 or e-mail