Parent-Teacher Meetings: Don’t let ‘em see you sweat!
Updated: Oct 31, 2021
Your child keeps coming home from school sad or angry - do you need to meet with the teacher? How should you prepare for a parent-teacher conference?
Your child has been a happy, curious learner at home. S/he is excited to start going to the big public school because you said s/he'd be able to make many new friends there and learn lots of interesting stuff. Sadly, you soon find out that you were wrong about that! Your child is coming home from school every day sad or angry. Something’s not working. Behavior reports are coming home. You start sending friendly little notes to class with suggestions on how to improve your child’s class participation and asking how you can help as a class volunteer (if this is an option for you), but you begin to see that distance communication isn’t working…you request a meeting, and one is scheduled.
Now, how do you prepare for this meeting? First, let me suggest that you reach out to Dr. Umar Johnson – google him to get his email address and phone number. From what I have seen, there is no stronger advocate for Black children’s education than this man. Conversation(s) with him and/or referring to his books will arm you with the knowledge you need to feel empowered as your child’s advocate. Even so, it is best to never go alone to a meeting at your child’s school! Empowered or not, it can be intimidating to have to talk to a teacher (or principal or counselor) on their territory. Whether they mean to or not, they may make you feel like they alone know what’s right and you’re just an interfering pest.
During a school meeting, you want to try not to make it easy for them to tell you what they think you want to hear knowing they have no intention of following through, the goal being to have a quick meeting and get rid of you! Frankly, this is likely (though not always) going to be the case if you, the parent, are Black, because…well, this is America and your child’s teacher is almost always going to be a white woman…’nuff said. Anyway, having someone with you as your witness might possibly cause the teacher to take you a bit more seriously.
Having a written list of bullet points will help you cover all the things you want to discuss. Never sink to arguing or cursing or in any way disrespecting the teacher. Remember that your child will continue to be at the teacher’s mercy after you leave the meeting. Subjecting her to a nasty attitude or foul language will not improve the way she works with your child. No matter how frustrated you may feel, you do not want to provide any excuse for the school to write you off as just a rude nag who is to be avoided as much as possible. Stay calm and polite. State what seems to be going wrong with your child in class, ask for the teacher’s perspective, offer your requests and suggestions, and, if you can, offer to help as a classroom volunteer. Bring any documentation you have that might support your ideas. Listen carefully to what the teacher says and observe whether she is really listening to you as well.
Take notes on what the teacher says she will do for your child. If it doesn’t happen, or if it does happen but does not help your child, then it’s up to you whether another teacher meeting is in order or your child should be transferred to another teacher. If that request is denied, or it's granted but things don't improve, and you know your child's education needs are not being met and it' snot because the child can't learn, it’s time to start moving higher up the ladder in the public school chain of command. Here’s a chain of command example from the Leadership Conference Education Fund:
Advocating through this chain of command is a slow process. As with your in-person interactions at school, it’s important to keep the tone of your letters polite – briefly provide “just the facts” and what you’re hoping to achieve with their help. It’s best to reach out in writing because this provides evidence that you've reached out to them for help; phone calls are easier to ignore, or phone tag could be a problem. While you are working your way up that chain of command, you can also reach out to your elected officials.
During your polite advocacy outreach, you may experience a lot of “passing the buck,” but don’t give up! You might want to also be researching other education options so that you’re not having to start from scratch if all of your public school advocacy efforts fail. You can find various traditional and non-traditional school options and support groups online, as well as lots of homeschooling information.
Remember that no matter what, YOU are the one who must stand between your child and the school-to-prison pipeline – by any means that you can manage. What are you willing and/or able to sacrifice for your child’s sake? Be committed to not leaving your child to languish in an educationally hostile environment! Children get to grow up one time…let yours see that your strength, tenacity, and love are strong enough to refuse to let them fail.
I’ve said all of the above with “normal" average to moderately gifted elementary school age children in mind. Children with disabilities have their own strong advocacy network and legal protections in place. But what if your child is highly or profoundly gifted? Can his or her needs be met in public school? Is advocacy for the HG or PG child’s education different from other education advocacy? This will be addressed in a future blog.
For the children