Preparing for Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parent-teacher conferences can be intimidating for new teachers.  I remember well my first parent-teacher conferences.  I was excited to meet the parents, but had never been instructed as to what was actually supposed to take place.  I noticed other teachers getting materials ready, but I wasn’t sure what materials they were gathering.  I did have standardized test results from fall testing, but I didn’t really know how to use them at that point in my career.  I had failed to collect work samples, and I didn’t have any anecdotal records.  I was flying by the seat of my pants, and I had no frame of reference for what I should be doing to prepare.

A vector illustration of parents and teacher meeting discussing the student class performance

If your parent-teacher conferences are coming up soon, here are some materials that you should prepare in advance to give you confidence in yourself and allow you to display your professionalism to parents.

  • A list of the appointments scheduled–in order–with both parents’ and students’ names listed alongside appointment times.  Children do not always have the same last name as the parent.  Heads up!  Keep it out on your desk/table during all conferences.
  • A clock where you can see it at all times.  Parents who run over their allotted times often anger others who are kept waiting.  You must be in charge of the time unless the school sounds a bell or tone to signal the start/end of the conference.
  • Folders of student work samples–in separate folders, marked with the student’s name, stacked in the same order of the conference schedule
  • A pad of paper/notebook that you can make notes in.  If the parents request that you move Jimmy’s seat, write it down.  Because there are so many conferences, you may forget who asked to have their child’s seat moved.  This reassures parents that you will act upon their request.
  • A seating chart or student desks that are labeled with the students’ names.  One year we had changed desks ON THE DAY OF CONFERENCES!  A parent asked to see “Becky’s” desk.  We opened every single desk and could not find Becky’s things.  I was totally embarrassed.
  • Standardized test scores if applicable in the student’s folder.
  • A checklist like the one here.  Should the conversation begin to lag, you will have student behaviors to reference.
  • Any anecdotal records you have kept.  For example, you may need to reference documented student behaviors to support your claim that Toby has been having trouble getting along with others on the playground.
  • A recent student report card or the grade for the particular class you teach 
  • Your grade book–electronic or hard copy

Now let’s suppose in the flurry of activity at the beginning of the school year, it never occurred to you to keep student work or anecdotal records.  If you have even one week before conference, collect work samples now.  Between now and conference day collect the following work samples:

  1. Writing sample–Information can be gleaned about spelling, punctuation, penmanship, and ability to express oneself in writing
  2. Math homework–whatever topic you are currently working on, get a sample of the student’s work; Is the student struggling with addition facts, multiplication, word problems, etc. ?
  3. Reading comprehension evidence–worksheets from science, social studies, or reading class will suffice
  4. A sample of his/her best work; a sample of work that could use improvement

How can I get all this, you ask?  Start Monday morning.  Set aside a few minutes of class time to gather this data.  You do not want to come up empty handed on conference day! Even if you do not have enough time to go over all the information you have collected, you will be well-prepared for the task at hand.  This will speak volumes to parents!

In my next post I will discuss how to conduct the actual conference and some issues that often arise.  YOU CAN DO THIS!  Start preparing now!



Report Card Time!


Report Card

Some of you on a six-week grading period may have already sent home your first report cards.  Others, on a nine-week schedule, may just be getting ready to send report cards out. Either way, it is not uncommon for new teachers to find themselves sorely lacking in graded assessments.  How does this happen?  Collectively, you grade a lot of papers across subject areas.   As a high school teacher, each of my biology assignments yields approximately 143 papers for five classes.  It is overwhelming!  But when you count the number of assignments per subject/class…it can be surprising how few different assignments you actually have.

If you teach elementary, you are just so plain busy meeting the needs of young students that you work together in class, send the page home for the parents to see, then POOF!  It’s the end of the grading period and you only have three grades in the grade book.

This is an EMERGENCY!  But here’s what you can do about it:

Upper Grades and High School:

  • Give a 5 point bell ringer twice this next week. (10 points total)
  • Have students write a paragraph on a topic that you have been studying that will reflect their level of understanding.  Assess it on understanding of the concept only.  10 points)
  • Give an exit slip on class material (5 points)
  • Give one homework assignment (10 points)
  • Announce a quiz and administer it (15-20 points)
  • Assign a task that students can work on in pairs.  Collect and assess the work (10 points)
  • Ask students to make a PowerPoint presentation, speech, or some other simple demonstration that shows what they know. (Don’t do this unless you realistically have time in class for the presentations)
  • Give a performance assessment that you can grade on the spot.  Can the student focus a microscope slide, bisect an angle, read music, or do anything else that takes five minutes or fewer for you to assess?

Lower elementary:

  • Use one assignment/activity to produce multiple grades:  for example, have students write a few sentences with their spelling words; correct the spelling and check handwriting (if you assign handwriting grades)
  • Have the student read the sentences to you.
  • Have students read a paragraph from their reading book and answer comprehension questions orally
  • Send students to the board for math practice; you can tell a lot about math ability by watching board work
  • Following a science activity, students can demonstrate what they have learned by writing a few sentences.  They can use math WITH science and you can glean two grades from one activity.
  • You can use a social studies activity to assess reading, writing, spelling, and math (with a little creativity)

The key here is to plan multiple assessments that will generate grades quickly and fairly. THEN, for the NEXT GRADING PERIOD, avoid this can of worms by promising yourself to get two assessments per week for each subject.  Mark the items you will assess in your lesson plan book with a yellow highlighter.  If you do this, you will not come to the end of a grading period and panic when you find that you have collected very few grades.

While having a ton of grades is not necessary, upper grade/high school students will feel like your grading system isn’t fair if you don’t have at least two grades per week.  Students in lower elementary will probably be oblivious to the number of grades, but the parents won’t be.  Use your good judgment, take care of the lack of grades THIS TIME, then vow not to get caught in the same position next grading period.  You will be OK!  Just get back on track and stay there! :)


How to make the most of your planning periods.


I must admit, I’ve dozed off a few times myself at my office desk!  But this isn’t the way it should be!  If you find yourself barely able to stay awake during your planning periods or when the students have gone to recess or one of their specials, I’m guessing you’re not getting enough sleep at night.  Try moving your bedtime back by one-half hour and see if that doesn’t help.

My first year teaching, I loved planning periods!  Nevertheless, I foolishly squandered my time.  It was common for me to go looking for someone to talk to during my “free” time. My favorite hangouts?  The library, the teachers’ lounge, the office.  Sometimes I just enjoyed looking around the school.  It felt great to be free of students for a time and to go make contact with other adults for a few minutes.

Looking back, I see that none of these activities were necessarily wrong.  But I was squandering time that I would pay dearly for later.

What should I have been doing?  It’s best to be forward-thinking during your planning time. Look at it this way.  ANYTHING YOU CAN DO DURING PLANNING TIME–EVEN IF IT’S ONLY FOR TEN MINUTES, IS TEN MINUTES OF WORK THAT YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE HOME!  

You can make the most of your planning time by deciding in advance how you will use it. Some teachers block out certain days of the week or certain periods to do the following:

  • Make photocopies
  • Grade papers
  • Enter grades into the computer
  • Write quizzes
  • Answer e-mails
  • Update class websites
  • Take care of business in the main office.
  • Consult with support staff.
  • Take care of housekeeping duties in the classroom such as watering plants, hanging bulletin boards, organizing centers, setting up labs

I recommend that you make a list of common tasks, and then designate certain planning periods to accomplish them.  Schedule the task, then do your best to stick to it and check it off once completed.  Be careful not to schedule large tasks that cannot be completed in the allotted time.  For instance, do not schedule yourself to try to change a bulletin board during a 15 minute recess.  Instead, schedule something you can actually complete in 15 minutes!

A word of warning…if you go looking for conversation, you will surely find it.  The bell will ring, or the students will return, and all you will have accomplished is talking about your pet peeves with another staff member.  It is best to get busy and stay busy!  Of course it’s imperative to be polite and respectful to colleagues.  And once in a while, it’s great to have a conversation.  But don’t make this a way of life, or you will add a ton of stress to an already stressful first few years.  Save your conversations for lunch time when it is actually best to set your work aside!

At all times have a to-do list nearby.  Checking items off as you complete them gives you a sense of accomplishment and peace of mind.  Write new items down as they occur to you. In the past I have rationalized that if I had only three minutes left of a planning period, there wasn’t significant time left to do anything worthwhile.  If you find something you can do in just three minutes, that is three minutes at home that you can have to yourself!  Just think how precious three minutes are when you’re running late for school in the morning.

I really hate to say this, but here’s a perennial problem you are bound to encounter sooner or later:  You will find that co-workers can really impede your ability to get your work done both during planning periods and during after-school time.  I’m sure I have been guilty of interfering with other teachers’ work myself.  But having been on the receiving end of wasted time, I have learned to interpret social cues.

If you see that someone is busy at their desk, be sensitive to that.  Be brief with your comments or requests, and then move on.  In my younger years I have had colleagues come into my classroom and stay for over half an hour to visit when I desperately needed to finish grading papers or hang a bulletin board.

Sometimes you may be able to continue your work under these circumstances. Other times, when your colleague is distressed, you really need to put your work down and make eye contact with that person. To make up for times such as these, it is critical that you use your time wisely and make your planning periods count.

This week, try looking at your planning periods and write down one or two things you can accomplish during each of them.  Check tasks off as they are completed.  As time passes, you can tweak your list to work more efficiently and thereby reduce the amount of work you have to take home.  Revise this schedule as you go through the year, and you will become very adept at managing your time wisely.  The end result will be an overall reduction in the stress of your first few years teaching!