A few years ago, I wrote about how I prepare for Parent Teacher Conferences in my post The Ultimate Prep Checklist for Parent Teacher Conferences.
Building on that, this year I wanted to go a little more in-depth and try to better understand what school is like for our kids from their perspective.
Here are the questions that made the list this year.
1. What I appreciate most about this teacher is….
Every day I pick the kids up from school, I ask them how their day was on a scale of 1-10. In addition to helping me get a baseline on their school day, they’ve become good evaluators. Before the Parent Teacher Conference, I have the kids rate each of their teachers on the same 10 point scale. This year, I wanted to get very specific about the top-rated teachers in our family.
What made them so special?
It’s pretty basic.
They make my kids feel special.
For instance, my little guy really likes his Math and Reading teacher.
In his sweet little voice he told me that he appreciates how much she notices him. She calls on him when his hand is raised. She lets him use the white board and help solve math problems. Bottom line: he feels good being in her class. It reminded me of that Maya Angelou quote, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
2. Is there any class where you feel invisible?
Be careful with this one – because you will hear some cringe-worthy responses.
When you’re kid admits that they feel invisible in a class, they are telling you they feel rejected.
“This teacher has nicknames for everyone in the front row. I don’t have a nickname. I don’t know why he doesn’t like me. All the other teachers like me… I just don’t think he likes me.”
“I feel like I’m not noticed. I used to raise my hand all the time. Now I don’t even bother.”
It’s tough for kids to share these things. It’s tough to hear them as a parent.
But as hard as those things are, it’s very important to bring it up at conference time.
“My kid feels unnoticed in your class.”
“My son told me he’s stopped raising his hand because he feels like he doesn’t get called on.”
And with that, hopefully we’re on our way to a solution.
3. Does this teacher spend more time EXPLAINING things or EXPECTING things?
This is such a great question to ask a kid.
We have to remember that before we ask our children “How was your day?”, we should ask “What did you learn?”. If the answers are more procedural than educational, it’s a sign that the focus has shifted away from learning.
I’d much rather hear this,
“Mom, I learned about this guy named Herodotus”
“I got recognized for turning in my reading calendar”.
When you want to explore who is really putting knowledge in your kid’s brain, please ask this “explaining vs. expecting” question. At the very least, they’ll ask you what you mean and you’ll have their curiosity as well as their attention.
PJ understood the difference immediately and he started telling me about his Logic teacher.
When I asked how it was he learned more from her than from another teacher (not coincidentally in a class where he is doing poorly), he said,
“I learn because she gives me tons of examples. I mean tons.”
So that’s how it is, that my 10 year old understands what it means for a fallacy to be “ad hominom circumstantial”.
(He understands it. But he can’t say it – it comes out “ad hominium seercumshatial”.)
4. How well does this teacher control the classroom? And, if they do not, how does it affect you?
Yesterday, if you’d have asked me whether good “Classroom Control” was an important factor in how my children evaluate their teachers, I probably would have said no.
But, I’m wiser today.
Turns out, one of the biggest criticisms that my kids had about their lower-rated teachers was that they couldn’t handle the classroom disruptions.
So, I wonder if teachers ever think about the impact an out of control classroom on good students?
Because, I’m here to tell you that it’s not so good.
Poor classroom control has a one-two punch for students: drama followed by trauma.
Disruptive students create drama when they don’t obey the classroom rules. When teachers cannot effectively handle the disruption on their own, the resulting impact on the rest of the class is traumatic.
Here are some quotes I heard tonight from my kids about the teachers who struggle to maintain control of their classrooms:
“When the class gets too crazy, he has another teacher come over to yell at us.”
“This class is so noisy. She needs to be more strict with the disruptive kids.”
“When she yells it hurts my ears and I can’t think for a while.”
I heard these things from my kids tonight and we had to stop and talk about how good leadership really makes or breaks any life experience.
Seeing a teacher through the lens of whether or not they displayed good leadership was also eye-opening for them.
Then, they could also recognize a teacher that had become more confident with experience:
“Every year this teacher gets better. She’s more mature this year. She’s got her own standards now.”
5. Have you ever found yourself PRETENDING to understand something in this class?
This is a gentler way to find out what your scholar is afraid of at school. Why would they pretend to understand something?
Fear of reprimand or demerits?
Fear of looking foolish?
What does it mean about how they feel about themselves when they can’t be honest about not understanding something?
Obviously, there can be misperceptions and truths on both sides of the problem.
Here are two comments that I heard after asking this question:
I’m completely lost but if I say that I’ll get a demerit. I’m worried I’ll always be lost with her. And, I’m scared of her, Mom.
I know the teacher likes me because I’m a good student… but he’s not nice to the kids that struggle. When this girl didn’t know the answer, he told her she should know this by now.
7. This class would be better if the teacher would do this:
I like this sentence starter because it generates so much discussion.
It can be gentle way to get at bigger opportunity areas in the classroom, “This teacher doesn’t really teach. We just get handed stuff.”
It also allows for some teacher comparison where your child draws on current or past experiences with other teachers to identify where the challenges lie.
If the answer is “nothing” – I always ask the one thing other teachers could learn from this teacher:
“This teacher gives me time to get my work done in class.”
“I like how he tells us stories about his life that apply to what we are learning.”
8. If this teacher could have another teacher mentor them, who would you pick to be their mentor and why?
This is another way to rank order your child’s teachers in terms of strengths.
In the same way a personality test will verify certain traits, these questions help paint a fuller picture of your child’s teacher lineup.
9. Which teacher’s opinion matters most to you? Who is the teacher you would never want to disappoint?
How important are relationships between teacher and student? This question underscores how influential good teachers can be in terms of motivation and behavior. I like to gauge the influence of the teacher on discretionary effort. My kids are rule followers – but what teachers get them to go beyond following the rules and dig deep to surpass standard expectations. Those are the teachers I want to recognize during teacher conferences.