When your child begins middle school, you might think it’s time to back off and allow your child to navigate school on their own. You may start corresponding less with their teachers (there are so many now!), and you may even consider not attending their parent-teacher conferences (at only a few minutes each, are they worth it?) After all, the goal is eventual independence, right?
Don’t loosen the reins so fast, advises Kate Cassada, a former middle school principal and current assistant chair of University of Richmond’s Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program.
When students start middle school, says Cassada, “They are anxious and unsure. They certainly are not mature enough yet to navigate school alone. They need calm and nonjudgmental adult involvement.”
And yes, that includes attending your child’s school conference, despite the time constraints or any other misgivings you may have.
Making the Most of Your Time
Middle school parent-teacher conferences typically last only 10-15 minutes per teacher, but if you’re strategic, you can get a lot out of the experience.
Ashley Cobb, an 8th grade math teacher and parent of two teens, has always made it a priority to attend her children’s conferences—but that doesn’t mean that she meets with every teacher each time.
“It’s most important to have a face-to-face with the teachers whose classes my kids are struggling in,” says Cobb.
For classes where her kids seem to be faring well, she may opt to check in by email instead, to keep the lines of communication open should anything come up in the future.
Questions to Ask the Teacher
Given the time constraints of parent-teacher conferences, it’s a good idea to come prepared with a list of questions. These questions can cover both academic and social concerns—after all, your child’s teachers often notice things your child won’t necessarily tell you.
Dr. Richard Horowitz, parenting coach and former school principal, shared a list of key questions to consider asking:
- How does my child seem to be getting along with other students?
- Does my child participate in class discussions?
- How does my child contribute to group projects?
- Does my child ask questions in class, or after class?
- What areas do you see as needing improvement?
If an academic concern comes up at the the conference, Dr. Horowitz suggests collaborating with your child’s teacher to make a clear plan for how to address it. Then, follow up via phone or email over the next few weeks as you work on it.
You can think of parent-teacher conferences as a first check-in with your child’s teachers—an opportunity to establish a working relationship. But remember that the communication doesn’t need to stop there.
“Parent-teacher conversation doesn’t have to be confined to the declared conference day,” says Cassada. Teachers are hoping you continue partnering with them—it makes their job easier, and it also offers huge benefits for your child.
“Middle school is complicated—adolescents are facing new challenges,” says Cassada. “They need their adults present and engaged.”
Looking for more tips and tricks on how to handle the middle school transition?
Wendy Wisner is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Family Circle, and Parenting, and is a frequent contributor to Your Teen magazine at www.YourTeenMag.com.