Turn Anxiety into Opportunity – How to discuss concerns at your parent teacher interview

It is that time of year for parents and teachers – report cards and parent-teacher interviews. For many parents, this is an exciting time to hear directly from your teachers on how your child is adjusting to their grade, what they have been learning, where their strengths lie and where they may be struggling.

But for those parents who have concerns with their kids ­- they are struggling with learning, having issues with friends, experiencing separation anxiety or maybe they are just not having a great year – it can be a time of stress and anxiety.

Two months into school, the novelty has worn off. Kids are settled into routine and parents will begin to see how their kids are really feeling about school, their friends, and handling homework load. Anxiety and behavioural concerns may start to surface and impact overall self-confidence. If this is the case for your family, parent teacher conferences should be seen as an opportunity to raise concerns about your child and advocate for their success.

Teachers are well intentioned and also want the best for each student, but there will be a time at some point in your child’s schooling where you just don’t see eye to eye with their teacher. They may be an excellent fit for your child’s friend in the class (and the mom raves about them), but with your child, you aren’t sure they “get” your kid.

If you or your child is unhappy, your instinct will be to protect. You will feel the need to march into that interview ready to voice your concerns, but I encourage you to choose advocacy over anger so you can stand up for your child in a constructive and mutually respectful way.

Talking to our Hoot teachers and my own children’s teachers on their perspective, combined with being a parent in this role myself, I would like to share some advice. A quick disclaimer: I am not a mediation expert and all of this advice is anecdotal, but I want to share what has worked for my family and what has not. 

Don’t skip levels

You may feel like you want to go straight to the principal to voice your concerns, but recognize this can be humiliating to your teacher and create a negative relationship. Give your teacher a chance to discuss your child’s concerns with you first before going over their head.

Book a follow up in advance

Parent teacher interviews may be a good place to build that initial relationship and bring up your concerns.  Be considerate of your teacher’s time as this is a busy day and there is likely another parent waiting outside the class for their interview. Be respectful and send a note in advance to book a follow up meeting to discuss things further where you can have your teacher’s full attention.

Be open

Many parents feel they need to hold back concerns they see at home with the fear of drawing negative attention to their child. If you are concerned your child is struggling in an area, may have a learning difference or specific needs, let the teacher know. This will only help them gain a better understanding of what your child needs in the classroom and also can open you up to additional support resources and accommodations.

Set short-term goals

Think about what you want your child to achieve over the upcoming term and work with your teacher to focus on this. Make them specific and achievable, so your child can be set up to succeed and move onto more challenging goals. Don’t just focus on reading and writing, but think about social goals to build confidence as well.

Focus on the problem

Avoid being personal. Instead of confrontational language like “I don’t think you are paying attention to my child,” try to create a conversation by asking, “What can we do to make sure my child feels confident at school.”

Watch what you say at home

Kids pick up things. Be careful what you say about your teacher in front of your child and model respectful communication.

Leave guilt at the door

Don’t assume the teacher thinks that your child’s challenges are a reflection of you and your parenting.  If you do, you will feel judged and you will act defensive.

Build out your team

You and your teacher are only part of your team. If you have concerns on your child’s learning or behaviour, look for outside help. Psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapy, and even private tutoring are all options to help support you as parents. Work with your teacher to get recommendations and ensure a feedback loop is in place to ensure everyone on the team is working with the same information.

Parenting is hard and so is teaching.  My last piece of advice is to give your child’s teacher the benefit of the doubt. They want to work with you and see your child grow.  I have experienced teachers who have been amazing for my child, and ones that I felt just didn’t get it. But even those ones that I personally questioned, they always worked hard. They always tried their best. Teachers have a lot of different kids with various needs in the classroom and if you show that you are there to work with them, not blame them, your child will reap the benefits.