Now that I sit on the other side of the desk, I feel the weight of the importance of these conferences. In most cases, I get to be the bearer of wonderful compliments about a child and the great parenting that has made him so successful. I’m able to point out the child’s strengths and why he is an important part of our class. What parent doesn’t want to hear good news?!
Sometimes, that good news is sprinkled with comments about a student’s weaknesses. These conferences are designed to also point out things that the parent can work on with their child. For example, if he has weak fine motor skills, we make recommendations of activities the child can do at home to strengthen his muscles. If he is struggling with numbers, we suggest games they can play to help him learn.
Yet, sometimes there are gray areas in terms of what a teacher can reasonably say. In one conference, I had to tread lightly in encouraging a parent to work harder to potty train her daughter. This child was four years old, yet still wore pull-ups. Her mother admitted that she was still too afraid to let her child go “unprotected,” in underwear. Yet, the child was bright, verbal, and a quick learner in all areas in school, and I was sure that she could be trained quickly and easily given the opportunity. In school we encouraged her to use the bathroom regularly, but without her parents following up at home, it couldn’t work.
During this conference I could feel that her mother didn’t appreciate my suggestion. In truth, when to potty train is a parent’s prerogative, and she didn’t like my suggesting that she wasn’t a good parent in this respect. Did I cross the line? I don’t think so. It is my experience that by four years old, a child should be trained unless there are other underlying issues. I felt it was my responsibility to encourage her training, and I was very willing to help out.
We compromised that she would place the child in underwear, and then put the pull-up over top of the underwear. In this way, if the child did have an accident, the pull-up would keep it from leaking out, but the child could feel the discomfort of being wet. If several days passed and the underwear remained dry, her mother could feel confident in getting rid of the pull-ups altogether.
Unfortunately, there are also conferences where we have to broach the subject of red flags that we see. Possibly the child isn’t processing information appropriately, maybe she needs help with her speech, or we are seeing something that is unusual at this age. These are never easy conversations to have, yet they are vitally important. Given early intervention, many issues can be resolved or dealt with before too much time passes.
When you have your parent teacher conference, come armed with any questions or concerns you might have. If the teacher makes a recommendation that you don’t agree with, take a deep breath and listen to what she has to say. Once you’ve had time to digest the information, you can choose to handle it in your way. But remember that she only has your child’s best interests at heart.