Ask the Teacher

My daughter’s school has decided that it will no longer offer designated days for parent-teacher conferences but instead, just have parents and teachers work out when to have a meeting. How do I decide when to do that? 

Consider your daughter’s past school experiences and the challenges that have been typical for her. If the difficulties that she has had tend to occur during a certain time of year or in specific subject areas, it would be a good idea to request a conference with the teacher ahead of that curve. The more information the teacher has, the better prepared she will be to help your daughter before the challenge becomes a problem. When you contact the teacher about scheduling the conference, be as specific as possible about what you would like to discuss. If the teacher has some time to consider your daughter’s situation, she may have some possible solutions for you to discuss.

If you have concerns about something that is happening socially, especially if you are concerned about bullying or something that could escalate to that, contact the teacher immediately. Often social problems escape the teacher’s observation because they occur on the bus, in the lunchroom, during recess or in the hall. Never assume that the teacher is keyed in to a social problem – big or small.

Should you simply want to hear the teacher’s perspective on how your daughter is doing in school and it is not urgent, wait until after the first of the year. That way the teacher will have something significant to tell you about how your daughter is doing and will have had a chance to observe her in a variety of learning and social situations. This will ensure that your conference time is meaningful and you get the most helpful feedback from the experience.

My fifth grade son comes home every day complaining that he cannot finish his work because the person sitting next to him is so distracting. Is it appropriate to contact the teacher about changing his seat? 

Rather than rushing in to remove your son from this distraction, help him problem-solve. Encourage him to tell his neighbor what he would like for him to do. If that doesn’t work, he should try ignoring the person. To avoid creating a problem with this classmate, he could explain at recess that he is sorry, but he really has to concentrate in order to get his work done. Moving to another place in the classroom during work time is a possible solution if the teacher allows that.

If those solutions do not work, contacting the teacher is a good idea. Instead of telling her that the seating arrangement needs to be changed, tell her that your son says he is having trouble working and what he has tried. Ask her to observe your son and his neighbor for a few days to determine exactly what is happening and whether the distraction is coming from just one party. Knowing whether or not your son is playing a role in the problem is an important part of finding a solution. She may have additional strategies for your son and his neighbor to try before moving their desks.

All spelling tests in my third grader’s class are done on the computer – and she just does not do well on them. When she practices with me, she knows all of the words. But on the computer, she is missing two or three each week. What can I do to help her be more successful?

To make sure that your child has mastered the words, try testing her in a few different ways. Give the words to her orally and have her write them out, as in a traditional spelling test format. Then have her type them on the computer. Have her spell the words aloud. Give her a test to “grade” in which you write out the words with some spelled incorrectly that she must find and correct. Enter her spelling words into a computer program like and have her take the test. Evaluate her work in the various modes to determine if she experiences more success using a particular format. Some children need to produce the words in different ways to genuinely master them.

If she appears to know the words well using a variety of testing methods, but continues to miss a few on the test at school, she may be experiencing test anxiety. To overcome that nervousness, be sure that the study and quizzing of words begins as early as possible. Waiting until the night before will only add to the tension. Then, teach her test-taking strategies. One strategy would be to skip something she isn’t sure about; another would be to highlight the tricky words. Explain that she must spell the words letter-by-letter rather than read them when she is proofreading her test. This will help her to catch errors that the brain automatically overlooks when reading. Finally, give her some ideas for taking a few seconds to relax before starting: take a deep breath, picture a relaxing place, count to ten, etc.

Ask the Teacher is written by Deb Krupowicz, a mother of four and current teacher. Deb holds a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and has over twenty years of experience teaching preschool, elementary and middle school students. Please send your questions to her at [email protected]

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