Fall is upon us, and so is the beginning of school. New school years welcome the excitement and fresh start that many students and parents need. New planners have been purchased as well as new clothes. And new agreements are made to encourage students to have a better year. After the first quarter, most schools hold some middle school parent-teacher conferences.
These conferences serve as a “check–in” on a student’s performance in the school. It also allows parents to chat with teachers face-to-face.
Let’s face it; for many parents, middle school parent-teacher conferences can be a somewhat stressful time. For many, students are struggling, and meeting with a teacher can be a nerve-wracking time.
Middle school parent-teacher conferences are short meetings between teachers, students, and parents, and the time can race by. To maximize the time, parents should be prepared to discuss their children with teachers.
This guide is going to outline the ten questions every parent should be asking at middle school parent-teacher conferences.
Middle School Growth and Development
Middle school is a breed of its own—a perfect mix of still young and learning, but with a dash of hormones mixed with the feeling of maturity and freedom. Middle schoolers are trying to balance crushes, bullies, and what’s cool.
This is a lot to deal with, and then you add in schoolwork, and many students struggle to maintain the balance.
It is normal for middle schoolers to cry, lash out in anger, shut down, or get stressed. This is the first time that they are learning their coping mechanisms. It’s important to remember these changes when going into middle school parent-teacher conferences.
Think about this when you look at your child’s grades and try to remember that they are changing a lot!
10 Questions Every Parent Should Ask at Parent-Teacher Questions
1. What areas is my child showing success in?
This is because you will be able to find opportunities to work with your child using their preferred methods of learning if you know what those are. For example, your student might consistently score high grades on projects, but fail at assessments.
Working like a detective, you would be able to deduce that your child enjoys researching topics more than recalling them. So, you will be able to encourage that more to help them have success in class.
Additionally, everybody likes to feel praised for their hard work. Starting a middle school parent-teacher conference on a positive note is helpful for parents and students to see how great their child is doing in class.
Whenever I have a challenging student, I always try to think about things that I really enjoy about them in class. Many parents move around a middle school parent-teacher conference hearing about all of the bad, and you can see them visibly relax when a teacher praises their child.
2. What do you notice are some of their struggle points in class?
Maybe it’s being too social or not turning work in on time. But it could also be things like public speaking or working in groups.
This is valuable information to have because you will be able to identify places where you can support your child more. Have a big speech coming up? Have them practice with you, your neighbors, anybody who will listen.
Or ask the teacher for an alternative presentation environment (for my shy students, I often let them present after school to an empty classroom. What can I say? I am a softy).
If a teacher tells you that your child is too social, ask them for something specific about their school work. Socializing is a natural part of being a middle schooler and feels like a cop-out answer, in my opinion.
3. In the next quarter, what big projects are coming up that they should be aware of?
This helps manage stress, but also expectations. Future planning will allow your child to expect what’s coming and prepare.
4. What kind of homework should I expect to see being completed at home?
Many students rarely bring homework home, “I did it during study hall!”. Then when middle school parent-teacher conferences come, you find out they’re missing work.
If your child isn’t bringing work home, check to see if that checks out. You might find that a teacher is giving them more resources than you know about.
5. If there are late and missing assignments: Can you explain your late policy?
For parents of students who have a lot of late work, make sure that you understand the policy before making your child sit through doing work that won’t count towards their grades.
This is especially important if a teacher’s late policies include no late work or work at a low percentage (like 10% credit). Additionally, late policies may vary teacher-to-teacher, and based on the assignment type (for example, a final essay might have a more forgiving late policy than a homework assignment). As a parent (and with your student), you can decide what is most worth your time once you have this information.
6. Where is class information most accessible?
Where can you find information like:
- Missing assignments
- email addresses
- tutoring time
For most, this information is provided during the first couple of weeks of school, but it’s helpful to ask if you don’t know.
This is also an excellent time to ask things like, “If I want to schedule a meeting outside of middle school parent-teacher conferences, when should I do it?”
7. In what ways do you encourage ________ in your class?
- free speech
- open conversations
If you want to get a clear idea of what the classroom looks like, ask your child’s teacher to answer this question. This is especially important; it pertains to your child and making sure it’s a supportive environment for them.
8. How can I support you from home?
The answer doesn’t matter nearly as much as the intent. Teachers love to hear that parents are invested in their class too.
This also lets teachers know that if there is an issue in class, that they can approach you.
9. Is there something that my child should be doing to take them to the next step?
When you ask a teacher this question, look for answers like, “If they could go a little deeper on their explanations” or “I would love to see them speak up more in discussions.” These are the things that your child could easily do to take their grade from a B to an A.
Rarely is a high grade a secret formula. Instead, it’s little changes to show your child is engaged and learning. When a teacher gives you these tips, they are telling you what is important to be successful in the class.
10. How do you encourage critical thinking, self-advocacy, responsibility, etc. in your class?
Think about it: if they focus on rote memorization and worksheets, your child will not have many chances to apply their learning critically.
But if the teacher uses projects or key questions to drive the learning, your child will have more opportunities to use these skills while they are learning.
Use Middle School Parent-Teacher Conferences as a Learning Opportunity
Many parents believe in teaching their children self-advocacy skills. Include your child in the conversation. In my classroom, pre-parent-teacher conferences, I always have my students fill out a short questionnaire. On the questionnaire, I ask questions like, “One thing I am really proud of this quarter is…” and “Here is the work that I’m currently missing in class…”. Finally, I always ask my students to answer the following question, “Brag to my parents about this part of my participation in class.”
This answer provides me information about something they’re particularly proud of and gives me a chance to tell their parents. “Hey, John did this AMAZING project on “Great Expectations,” I loved how he got so into learning about the time period.”
Kids love that their teacher took the time to read their responses and bragged to their parents!
Students should not be spectators to their education. They should be allowed to contribute to it thoughtfully. These questionnaires allow them a space to reflect on their performance but also gives me information about how they think they’re doing in class too.
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You can begin these conferences by asking your student to talk about their strengths, weaknesses, and more. These are real-life skills they will need to have as they become adults. Please encourage them to talk with their teachers to find out how they could do better in class.
On the Other Side of the Table
When I was a teenager, confident I understood the world better than my teachers, I remember going head-to-head with a math teacher. I was sure she was mistreating me, and so she and I argued with each other on the makeshift desk (cafeteria lunch table), while my parents sat aside and watched.
Now, my parents were active and invested in my education, but they also didn’t go to class each day. They didn’t have to learn. And they didn’t take the tests. This wasn’t their fight, and they let me stand up for myself.
Now, 20 years removed from this exchange, I can see how foolhardy I was for thinking I could take my teacher on. But I am grateful for the experience of standing up for myself because that skill has benefitted me well into adulthood.
Ways to Support Students Outside of Middle School Parent-Teacher Conferences
One of the best things you can do for your child is to encourage them to approach their teachers during the year. A missing assignment? Talk to your teacher. A low grade? Talk to your teacher.
This is what I write in my syllabus and stand behind it:
How many times in your life have you gotten a poor review at work, and your mom called to chew out your boss? Probably never! We want to make our future adults confident to stand up for themselves.
Many of your child’s struggles can be solved easier if they approach their teacher sooner rather than later. When they come home frustrated, you should always make sure they have talked with their teachers.
If they have and aren’t making progress, make an appointment to meet and mediate the meeting.
Middle school parent-teacher conferences can often turn into a battle of he-said-she-said between a teacher and a student. It shouldn’t be! Your child’s education should be a collaboration, and when you come to a middle school parent-teacher conference prepared, you will be able to create a game plan for your child.
Using these ten questions, you will be able to jumpstart your conversation with your child’s teachers.
As we covered, middle school is a different challenge for students, because it brings new social situations, growing bodies, and more.
To help your child to be successful in school, you should come alongside them and encourage the skills they need to tackle school.