Families & the Community Opinion

I Thought I Knew Parent-Teacher Conferences. Then My Own Child Started School

An educator’s view from the other side of the table
By Marissa McCue Armitage — January 09, 2024 4 min read
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I’ve been a teacher for 15 years. I’ve conducted parent-teacher conferences, but I’m only recently on the other side of it as a parent. My first child is in 1st grade, and I’m just getting a different taste of the parent-teacher dynamic. I’m learning how to interact with the classroom teacher in a way that feels like I’m advocating for my child while also being respectful of the teacher’s time and resources (or, frankly, lack thereof).

Parent-teacher conferences can be a great opportunity for feedback, but they can also be fraught with emotions. As a teacher, I have experienced parents who are open to feedback and parents who struggle to receive a negative report.

This school year, on the receiving end of these conferences, I found myself feeling surprised and disheartened when the teacher described my child’s behavior at school. It was difficult for me to separate my child’s performance in school from my ability as a parent. I left my first parent-teacher conference feeling like I had failed as a parent and confused about what to do next.

I spent the first five years of my daughter’s life curating her every moment. I took an extended maternity leave, I went down to teaching part time, and I found her the perfect child-care provider. I read all the parenting books, listened to the podcasts, and followed the parenting experts on social media. I was the CEO of this little human being and I would ensure that this venture would be a success!

Then, she turned 5 years old, and it was time to let her go. Off she went on a bus to school for hours every day. I went from having full control over her every waking moment to no control at all.

When we finally had parent-teacher conferences, I was eager for feedback. Up to this point, I had very little insight into her success at school. If I’m honest, I wanted to hear that she was thriving and confirmation that I was a good parent. Instead, the teacher informed me that my child was not behaving in age-appropriate ways. I immediately felt a sense of failure.

Hearing feedback from my child’s teacher was painful. I had poured my heart and soul into this small creature. I had researched and made intentional decisions about her well-being. How could my plan not be working perfectly? I felt ashamed, like I was a bad parent or wasn’t doing a good job. After some personal reflecting, I realized that my self-worth had become entangled with my child’s behavior.

I have been on the other end of this as an educator. I have been in the position of the teacher delivering feedback to a parent about their child, where I was often met with that parent’s defensiveness and resistance. It has happened so often, in fact, that many of my colleagues have stopped providing feedback at all.

Now, I understood how difficult it is to hear feedback from a teacher. I wanted validation from this educator, but, instead, my sense of success as a parent felt threatened. I so badly wanted to be seen as a good parent that I was in danger of doing the opposite by ignoring what was actually happening with my child.

From my own experience as an educator, I knew that this teacher had my daughter’s best interest at heart. She was invested in helping my daughter succeed. I knew that if I resisted her feedback, I would be straining a relationship with this teacher who wanted to be my ally. I realized I needed to disentangle my self-worth from the behavior of my child, for her sake and for mine.

I needed to make sure that my child’s teacher felt safe being honest with me. I needed her to know that we were a team. I wanted her to know that I valued her opinion and I understood that she was a highly qualified professional.

We are two very important pieces of the puzzle, this educator and I. No teacher is ever going to know my child better than I know her, so I could offer her insight about my child that she would never see at school. I could provide crucial information that the educator could use to help motivate my child to learn.

She, in turn, would offer me a valuable perspective on the five days a week that my child spends in her classroom, where she can observe my daughter outside the home and among her peers. Her insights as an educator can help me better understand my daughter. Collaborating with this teacher would be in the best interest of my child.

As an educator, I have seen how a lack of communication and teamwork between teachers and parents can be detrimental to a child. If teachers feel unsafe having important conversations with parents about their children, they will avoid telling parents the truth. As a result, a child may not be receiving the services or interventions that they need to navigate their future successfully.

We have now had a total of three parent-teacher conferences. I found that the more I got to know the teacher, the easier it was to receive her feedback. Once we established a relationship grounded in collaboration, her input felt more constructive. Our teamwork has helped me to better understand my child, and I’m a better parent for it.

We established common language and consistent strategies at home and in school, which has been very helpful for my daughter and for me as a parent. I have conversations with my daughter about the feedback I receive from her teacher.

She knows that she has a team of grown-ups looking out for her best interest. She knows that we are aligned in our high expectations of her and we’re all holding her accountable.

The best thing for our children is a village of grown-ups working as a team. Parents need to be reminded that teachers are invested in the well-being of their children. Building relationships is the key to the success of this partnership. It’s time for parents and teachers to unite in service of our children.

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