As a teacher I get asked this question a lot by friends who are parents. Recently, it was asked on a Facebook post and the comments were very conflicting. As an Early Childhood teacher (Pre-K-3) I say no, yet many parents think they need to bring their children with them to conferences because it is their child’s education and they should be involved. In this post I’m listing reasons why I feel young children should NOT come to parent teacher conferences, (in my opinion as a teacher.)
- I talk to students differently than I do parents– I am honest with my second graders (I was also honest with my Kindergartners when I taught Kinder) about where they are academically. However, I feel more like a coach when I’m speaking to my students about their academics. I’m upbeat and positive and discuss short term goals with students. For example, “you’re doing well here but we need to keep practicing this.” When I talk to parents, I’m presenting data and the conversations will be more “this is where your child falls in comparison to peers and scores like this mean……” These are conversations I don’t want to stress my students out with. I push them very hard all day long, but in today’s world of high stakes testing and over data collection of children’s work, I’m usually presenting parents with information that can sound defeating to a child. I can build a child up so much in school, only to have them hear one bad test score at a parent teacher conference and instantly deflate them.
- I only have so much time to talk to you- your child isn’t my only student. I have 15-20 minute time slots for conferences. I usually have a lot of information to share with you in those 15-20 minutes. More often than not when a parent brings their child we get side tracked. It starts as simple as, “show me where you sit. Oh this is your desk, who do you sit by?” And the student starts talking and then we all start talking and the next thing you know the conference is completely side tracked. This brings me completely to my next point.
- It often gets awkward- especially when I’m trying to talk to a parent about a child’s behavior. The parent will start yelling or lecturing the kid—right in front of me. The kid sits there embarrassed and then the parent makes them apologize and it’s soooooo awkward. When I discuss behavior I’m not looking for an apology. I’m not even looking for assurance that the parent is going to discipline the kid. I want help from the parent in addressing the issue. What works at home? What tips and tricks can I add to my tool belt so that I can pull one out the next time this behavior occurs? What kind of game plan can we work on together to address these issues? When a child is present this conversation almost never happens. The parents yells, the student sits uncomfortably (along with me) and then they apologize and then the parent promises that it will never happen again (which it most likely will) and then we wasted 5-7 minutes of our conference time solving nothing.
- Your child doesn’t really care- I have parents who will say “well they need to be on the same page about their education as you are so I need them to be at conferences to hear what you’re saying.” I promise you, your child will not understand what I’m saying to you. When I’m explaining phonemic awareness and how this dibels score is an indicator to future reading success, your kid doesn’t get it. Don’t get me wrong though, your child is picking up much more during our conversation. They are listening to the tone I’m speaking in and watching your body language closely. They know if what is going down is positive or negative and they are sweating bullets to make sure everything is positive. I still remember going to conferences with my mom when I was little. We had to sit in the hall way because we weren’t allowed to be in the room with the adults (duh. Why did this ever change?) And I could tell when my mom walked out of that room if it was a good conference or a bad one just by the look on her face. And that is all I cared about. I’m sorry parents but at age 8 your child could CARELESS what college they’re going to. They aren’t thinking about school in the terms of their futures. They are just trying to make you happy. Onto my next point.
- You are the adult– The biggest argument I get from parents is “well this is their education and it impacts them and they should be involved in the decisions.” Ummmm, do you let your kid be involved in every decision that involves their life? Like you’re not going to buy that house because your child doesn’t like the bedroom they’ll have in it? When it comes to education you are the only one with enough knowledge to know and understand the consequences of what will happen if your child falls behind. I do believe once a child starts middle and high school then it’s time to start expecting them to make independent decisions about their education (ie. I have a social studies test tomorrow. I need to study for it) but in Early Childhood no. You are the adult, you will tell your child what they are going to do academically and they will do it. It should be that simple. Parent-Teacher conferences are called Parent-Teacher because that’s who should be at them. It’s a meeting between adults to discuss what’s in the best interest of the child and working together to create a game plan that will ensure the success of that child.
I understand parents may have no choice but to bring their children to conferences. Trust me I get it. I live in a state 2,300 miles from my entire family (husband’s included) we don’t have babysitters we can drop the kids off at real quick so we can run to a 20 minute conference. So my kids will be sitting in the hallway reading, or on the computer with headphones, or whatever activity the teacher has available for them. But my child will not be participating or listening to conferences.
There are always plenty of opportunities in the school year for children to share with their families what’s going on in their classrooms. Open houses, family nights, celebrate learning nights, even student-led parent teacher conferences. When you feel your child is old enough to start taking responsibility for their education, then you may want to ask the teacher about them tagging along for conferences. I just don’t feel this should happen until at least middle school or even high school. But unfortunately for my kids– in my house education will not be a democracy. It will be a dictatorship that my husband and I are in charge of and therefore, my children will not be participating in Parent-Teacher conferences.