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Parent Teacher Conference Tips

Parent Tips > Education, Schools & Tutors > Parent Teacher Conference Tips

Preparing for Parent/Teacher Conferences

Submitted By: Bill Cirone

Not long after the school year begins, the time comes for parents to meet with teachers and discuss their child's progress.


Parent-teacher conferences can be a very helpful means of communication. Ideally, it is a two-way exchange of information about a child. Parents always want to know how their child is doing, what are their strengths and weaknesses, and how they can help, but teachers also want to know of any stresses in a child's life that could affect classroom performance and of course any special needs that a child might have.


To increase the effectiveness of these conferences, parents should consider taking some preliminary steps.


First, take time before the conference to think about your child's strengths, weaknesses, study habits, and classmates. Ask your child: What do you like about the classroom? What would you like to change? Do you understand the work? Do you feel you're doing well?


There are also several questions a parent should consider asking the teacher during the conference:


* What are my child's best and weakest subjects?
* How can I help him improve?
* Is my child working up to his ability? If not, why do you think so and how can I help?
* Is my child's schoolwork progressing as it should? If not, how can I help her catch up?
* If my child is ahead of other students, what will challenge or encourage her?
* How does my child get along with other students?
* Are there any special behavior or learning problems I need to know about?
* What kinds of tests will be given this year? What are the tests supposed to tell?
* Is my child's homework turned in on time, in completed form, and does it meet your expectations?
* How much time should be spent on homework each night?


Parents and teachers have much in common. Neither wants a child to fail. Neither wants a child to be caught between the pressures of differing standards at home and at school. Both know that learning goes on at school AND at home.


Together, parents and teachers can become a powerful force for positive change in the life of a child. It's worth taking a little time to make sure the initial conference is helpful and informative for all involved.



Challenges in Math Education

Submitted By: Kristen Atkins, M.S.

It is a sad fact that students in the United States are falling behind in the study of mathematics. "Everybody Counts: A Report to the Nation on the Future of Mathematics Education" from The National Research Council found that only half of the nation's students take more than two years of high school level mathematics. Most leave high school without the mathematical skills needed to meet the expectations of college level mathematics and today's jobs. In December 2011, an international assessment indicated that fifteen-year-olds in the U.S. ranked 25th among peers from 34 countries in math proficiency. Since many of our current jobs require expertise in the field of math, there is much debate about why U.S. students are lagging and what we can do. Here is a brief look at some topics that may be helpful for parents: math standards, what other countries are doing, what parents can do, and what schools can do.

Mathematical Standards
Standards are a way to define what should be mastered in a student's mathematical career. The United States has a de-centralized educational system so each state can develop its own standards. Recently, many states have modeled programs on the standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (see


One reason that teachers find math standards difficult to implement is that not all students can master each specific skill in the limited time allotted for teaching that skill. For example, if fifth graders must master the four operations with fractions (a developmentally appropriate skill), they may only have three weeks to master these skills. Yet many students need additional time to practice. Consequently, many students fall behind and never catch up. Teachers often lack time to assess each student for specific skill deficits and to remediate key issues. Math is cumulative, so if a student misses fundamental skills in the beginning, future new concepts get added to a rather unstable foundation.


It is important to make careful comparisons with countries whose students are outscoring U.S. children. Educators in the United States are often criticized for having a curriculum that is "a mile wide and an inch deep," meaning too much material is being covered without concepts being studied in depth. To make matters worse, poor performance in mathematics has almost become socially acceptable in this country. Many in the U.S. tend to falsely assume that differences in mathematics achievement are due to differences in innate ability. However, countries such as Singapore spend much more time on key subjects, giving students ample time to practice. Longer school years in other countries also contribute to higher math scores. U.S. and Californiastandards are strong, but we often don't have enough time in a school day to ensure that every child masters every concept.

The solution starts at home. Sixty percent of our students who enter community college require remedial math! This illustrates that the problem begins in elementary school. Fortunately, this is a time when parents can help their children see math as a normal part of everyday life, and also as a source of fun and play.


Here are some suggestions for helping your kids develop a love for math:

  • Encourage your child to see the beauty of mathematics by showing them that math is all around them in art, sports, nature, architecture, and technology.
  • Read children's books that focus on math.
  • Encourage your child to estimate answers that you pose, such as, "How many hamburgers do we need to make to feed our family?"
  • Teach your children how to purchase items and how to make sure they have the correct change. Allow them to practice this skill.
  • When driving in the car, practice math facts in a fun way: "I am thinking of a number that is even - what can it be?" Or, "I am thinking of a number that is one more than 89, what is it?"
  • Review your child's math work and look for potential errors. Check to see if their paper seems disorganized. Do they know their math facts? Are they adding instead of subtracting? These types of errors need to be addressed and fixed. You may need to begin a dialogue with your child's teacher. Do not just wait, hoping they will eventually figure it out.
  • Use the Internet to learn about topics in math yourself, and share this with your child. It's never too late to learn about the joys of math.

We can also be alert to areas where problems may arise for our children as they attempt to learn key math concepts.

Math Vocabulary & Symbols -


  • Mathematics has a vocabulary that is specific, and many teachers and students struggle with this aspect of the curriculum. For example, is subtraction "take-away," "minus," "less than," or "finding the difference"? Math textbooks will often use one term and teachers supplement with other materials that use different terms. This can cause confusion, so help your child understand which terms are preferred, as well as the meaning of less familiar terms, as they arise. Check with your child's teacher if you yourself are not sure.
  • Symbols, too, can be challenging and they change over the course of a student's mathematical career. When you are in elementary school, the sign for multiplication is an "x." When you get into high school, it becomes a dot or a set of parentheses. On computers, it is often an asterisk, and some exams use that symbol. Experienced teachers point out these challenges because they know they can cause frustration.
  • Curriculum Changes - Teachers in public schools must use state approved textbooks in their classrooms. Some districts change textbooks every 2-4 years, which means the teachers must learn to use a new curriculum that often focuses on different techniques. A new teacher who does not have the best confidence in his or her ability to do math, using a new textbook that illustrates techniques not previously used, trying to teach a class of 30 students with minimal support, might have the best intentions. Even so, over the course of a full academic year, some aspects of math concepts could be skipped or presented less fully.

What can we do?

If you suspect your child is falling behind in math, don't wait until the problem gets worse. Talk to your child's teacher immediately and discuss a strategy for support. Until we, as a state or a nation, decide that it is better to learn mathematical concepts in depth, as opposed to spending only one or two days on each key concept, the fear is that we will remain a nation that is not meeting the demands of this twenty-first century. Parents should discuss these issues at school board meetings and with their principals.


  • Math Specialists - When budgets permit, some schools have hired elementary math specialists who demonstrate a passion and expertise for teaching students in ways others cannot. This may seem unusual at first, but it is not much different from the practice of hiring specialists to teach music, art and physical education, as is done now at the elementary and middle school levels. An inspired, enthusiastic teacher who knows and loves a subject can often find even more ways to help students succeed and enjoy the subject, too.
  • If you suspect your child is falling behind in math, here are some things you can do:

    Find a tutor. Tutoring your own child, while convenient, often confuses the role of teacher versus parent. If you cannot afford a private tutor, contact your local library for information on their after school homework and tutoring programs.

  • Inquire about options for support at your child's school. Many schools provide remedial math instruction through after school programs or summer school.
  • Consider having your child repeat his/her math class. Research suggests that if your child earns a C in Algebra, he or she will most likely struggle with Geometry and Algebra II. Why? A "C" is, indeed, passing but it does not indicate that your child has mastered the material in enough depth to apply it in a higher-level math class.

A Different Perspective: Prevent grade school bullying by finding out what's going on with the "bullies"

Submitted By: Carolyn Farrell, MFT

It's Tuesday evening and the kids are in bed. You're settled on the sofa anticipating falling asleep in front of some escapist TV. The phone rings and it's your child's teacher. You sit up straight and your jaw drops. What? My child was involved in an incident of bullying? My kid was the bully?

No parent wants to get that call, but many do. Some estimate "bullying" incidents happen to at least half of all children between 4th and 7th grade. There is a plethora of information and instruction for children and their parents on how to avoid being the victim of a bully, as there should be, but very little seems to be written on the real source of the issue. How do we address and eliminate bullying behavior? First, I think it is necessary to rethink how we talk about the issue. Labeling our children "bullies" and "victims" tends to set up an "us against them" dynamic that fails to recognize that both are simply children that need help.

I have been working with children and parents as a school counselor, substitute teacher and as a licensed marriage and family therapist for many years, and I would like to offer some tips for the parents, grandparents or caretakers who get that call from the teacher.

1. First notice your emotional reaction to what is being said regarding your child and the incidents. Are you feeling angry at the teacher, your child, or yourself? Are you feeling shock and disbelief? Denial? Are you minimizing the incident? These are some of the normal feelings that we as parents might have. However, these are REACTIONS and we do not want to take action on them. So, stop and take a deep breath. Notice your reactions and emotions. If you have a close and reliable friend who is a good listener call them to help process your initial feelings and thoughts.

2. Talk to your child! THE GOAL IS TO UNDERSTAND YOUR CHILD'S PERSPECTIVE. Devote uninterrupted time to this conversation in a private setting. Remain calm and neutral. Ask open ended questions such as, "Tell me about what happened yesterday on the basketball court with Jaden." Then let the story unfold. If you get the "I don't know" answer, or "Nothing" you can help by stating "Mrs. Smith was really concerned about it when she called and so am I." These types of statements reflect love, concern and a willingness to get to know your child. This will eliminate defensiveness and fear. You want to listen for his thoughts, feelings and motivations regarding the incident in order to help him ultimately solve the issue differently next time. Remember, this is a TEACHING moment. Resist shaming statements such as "I thought you were smarter than that" or "You should have known better than to do that."


These do not teach children how to behave differently. They have the opposite effect by demeaning and lowering the child's self-esteem. This actually causes them to be defensive and create MORE unwanted behavior. By getting your child's perspective you can help them choose alternative behaviors in difficult situations. Remember children are not adults. Their reasoning skills, social skills, and coping strategies are not the same as ours. This is a chance to understand what types of situations feel stressful for your child and where she might need help and support from you and the school staff. Discuss what consequences the school is imposing and get her feedback regarding them. Help your child get into the injured party's shoes and brainstorm about how she can make amends to the other child. Talk about a time when she might have felt these same feelings as the injured party. Do lots of listening. The goal is for both you and your child to learn more about her thoughts and feelings.

3. Take action at school. Make time to contact the teacher and principal and meet in person as soon as possible. If this is the first incident discuss the facts again to clear up any questions you may have had. If there have been other similar incidents, discuss having your child see the school counselor. Talk about the schools consequences and what you are doing at home to help your child. Discuss how your child is doing in school socially, their ability to be attentive in the classroom, and in academics. If the school staff has noticed some recent negative changes, this might be a sign that changes need to be made, at home and in school. Set up a system of communication via phone or email with your child's teacher to receive regular feedback on your child's progress.

I believe we have not focused nearly enough attention on what is going on with our children who are being labeled as bullies. There are, of course, the big picture systemic issues in our society today that include issues of poverty, high divorce rates, harried parents working long hours, overcrowded and under staffed schools, media emphasis on violence, and just a general atmosphere of competition rather than cooperation. These are setting the stage for our children's emotional needs to go unmet.

How can we as individuals address these seemingly overwhelming issues? We do that by assessing the atmosphere we are creating in our own homes and in the schools where are children are spending the bulk of their day. We make the changes that are necessary for our children to grow up in loving and caring environments. All parents want this for their children. I have never met a parent, grandparent, or caretaker who doesn't. I have, however, met many that are feeling overwhelmed by the challenge and don't know where to start.

Situations that might cause unwanted behavior in children are divorce, separation, loss of a loved one, and changes in routines, such as attending a different school, moving, chronic illness in a family member, aggressiveness by a sibling or close relative, or academic difficulty. These are just to mention a few situations that can cause anxiety and stress in children's lives. Often these situations leave children feeling as though they have no control over what is happening to them and these feelings are translated into what we call "bullying."

If you feel you need additional help with any of these issues, your child's teacher or principal can refer you to community based support, or contact a professional who has experience working with children and families.

Carolyn Farrell, MFT, is a marriage and family therapist and art therapist with a private practice in Felton. Among her specialties is a focus on children using art and play therapy to resolve emotional and behavioral issues. While working with children she offers parenting support and directive counseling for parents. To find out more about Carolyn call please call 831-325-6647 and visit her website

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