Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Parent Teacher Meetings - Tips from a mum of 6

As you can imagine, I have sat through numerous parent-teacher-meetings (PTMs) over the years. In the early days, I used to discuss the obvious. Their marks, their behaviour, if they were having or giving any problems. Some friends tell me they see no point in going for PTM after P1 or P2 because the teachers always say the same things. For me, I look forward to these sessions because in such a short time, issues get ironed out and I discover new insights about my child. Here are 6 tips to make the most of your PTM. (these tips are for primary school PTMs, but some are general and can be applied to secondary and kindergarten levels as well.)

1. Do your homework

You only have 15 minutes. Make every minute count. Be prepared. Know what grades your child got. Have a casual chat with your child beforehand to sniff out any issues she might be having, whether it is regarding her studies, friends or teachers. If there are any specific concerns, list them down so that you can immediately zoom in on them.

When #1 was in P4, she had some problems with her classmates and kept telling me about them. I listened, but thought of it as usual 'friendship' issues amongst girls. Luckily I mentioned it to her teacher and only then did I learn that it was a form of serious emotional bullying as #1 was being ostracised by the entire class as instigated by one girl. Her teacher took the matter very seriously and dealt swiftly with the class. Thankfully the problem was nipped in the bud and #1 was not emotionally scarred.

In some schools, you are only allowed to chat with the form teacher, whereas in other schools, you are free to speak with all the subject teachers. Find out from your child which teacher you will be seeing and how much face-to-face contact he or she has had with your child so that you have an idea of how much the teacher knows about your child.

For example in P1, #5's form teacher taught him English and Math so she was able to give me a good picture of him in school. On the other hand, #4's form teacher had just taken over the class because the previous teacher resigned, so his insight of her was limited. In such a case, I would look for a subject teacher to speak to if need be.

2. Set the tone

I can only imagine that it is very intense for the teacher to have to sit through a full day of discussion with parents and recall information on every child. If I ask surface questions, I get surface answers. I have discovered that by being open and approachable, the teacher would be more forth-coming with her insights. Being with the students everyday, the teacher is in a unique position to notice traits in them, which become all the more obvious when seen in the light of 40 other children. Many teachers have pointed out pertinent observations of my children, both good and bad, which I have failed to see.

Last time, when a teacher started to point out some negative feedback about my child, my natural response was to be defensive or I would try to explain my point of view. I have since learnt to bite my tongue and hear her through. I used to flinch when the teacher said, "I hope you don't mind me being frank." The teacher may have noticed some character traits in your child, but if it seems like you are unable to handle it or that you might be combative, the teacher will likely not tell you everything she might have wanted to.

Now, when I hear those words, I am calm about it because I know that however painful it may be to have to hear negative comments about my dear child, I will leave the room with a better understanding of her. With the nuggets of information I glean, I am able to address my child's weaknesses and she would benefit as a result of it. It is also good training for the child to see that we can be critical of a behaviour without attacking her personally, and she will be more able to accept constructive criticism in future.

3. Discuss academic work 

I try to quickly find out what went wrong with the subjects that she fared badly at. Was it that she did not study hard enough? Did she not manage to pick up the skills and strategies to answer the questions in the way she needs to? Or has she not been paying attention, or gets easily distracted? Once we figure out the reasons, we can set targets and devise a simple action plan.

During #2's P6 year she was hardly given any homework. I asked the teacher why that was so. He explained that as she was in one of the top classes, all the other kids had tuition for virtually every subject and most were over-stretched. Apparently in the previous year, there were kids who buckled under the pressure and their minds went blank during the PSLE. So they decided to reduce the stress by minimising homework from school. I told her teacher that she did not have any tuition besides Chinese and I was relying on the school teachers. He was surprised and agreed to give her individual homework, which worked out well.

Besides looking at the raw score of their marks, I always like to know the percentile across the whole level. That gives me a more accurate picture. A 60 in Chinese may seem ok, but if that was the lowest 20th percentile, then I'll have to start worrying. Likewise, I have seen dismal scores of 55 for English, but later found out that because the paper was so tough, it was in the top 80th percentile.

These information are not meant for us to compare the child with others but simply to have a starting point to work towards improvement. The child might start off with being in the lowest 15th percentile in a weak subject, but so long as she is putting in her best effort and is gradually improving, it is enough.

4. Connect with the teacher

Teachers face a class of 40 students, and most have to handle a few classes. The PTM is a time for me to introduce myself to the teacher and for her to put a parent's face to the child. When #3 was in P5, I spoke to her Math teacher and he had good things to say about her. Attentive, quick learner, spontaneous in answering questions. I thanked him for teaching her so well and he gave me his word that he would look out for her as she did not have a tutor to rely on.

After the mid-year exams, he called me to come in and meet with him in school. She had failed her Math paper and he was worried about her. He told me that she had stopped volunteering answers in class and was constantly doodling while he was teaching. We went through the paper together and figured out that there were chapters she could not grasp and was probably getting demoralised. I had a chat with her and she shared that Math was getting too difficult and she had given up. We worked out a plan and with Mr Tan's help, she was able to get back on track.

Teachers are incredibly busy, so once the contact is made, it is easier for the teacher to communicate with the parent, and vice versa, either via email, a call or even a quick chat during school events. (Yes, I'm always doing that, to the point where now my kids will point their teacher out to me saying, "Mum, Mr Tan is there, do you want to go over and say hi?")

5. Their teacher is your ally

It is very important for our children to know that we as parents are in alignment with their teachers. When #3 was in P6, they had a teacher who came from another school. This teacher had a no-nonsense style of discipline and she was very strict and expected them to give of their best. Naturally, #3 did not like her nor her style of teaching. She kept complaining to me about her harsh methods but never once did I simply agree with her nor put her teacher down. In fact, after hearing her daily rants of how 'unreasonable' and 'mean' she was, I told her that she sounds like an excellent teacher. When I finally got to meet Mrs L at the PTM, it was like meeting a like-minded friend. Mrs L shared with me that #3 was a tough nut to crack. She had quietly showed her disdain for her tough methods and was uncooperative.

At the PTM, I told her that I was in full support of her methods and would have a nice chat with #3. After that, Mrs L reported that her whole attitude changed and the fire in her turned from being a destructive force to a positive one and her grades soared as a result.

I hear from teachers that in the upper primary, some students think they know better and can thus be obstinate. I try never to undermine their teachers because it is akin to parenting. Both parties have to present a united front for the child to respect the teacher and to learn well. There were instances where my kids came home and complained about their teachers and I made comments such as "Aiyo, why your teacher so bad", without realising that it impacted their view of the teacher. So now I don't do that any more. And besides, I have come to the realisation that kids tend to exaggerate or obliterate facts to their advantage.

6. Show your appreciation

I had just attended #3's PTM and was extremely heartened and humbled by her teacher's genuine care and concern for her. Settling into Secondary 1 had been quite difficult for her. The subjects had doubled, she got home past 7pm most evenings and wasn't getting enough sleep, and was disinterested in the new subjects. Her teachers found her to be uncooperative, but her co-form teacher took the trouble to take her aside to have a personal conversation with her. Only then did she see a different side of her and from there, she was able to address the problems easily. I have never seen any teacher have such great faith in a 'challenging' child, and her genuine concern for #3 touched me deeply. I wrote an email to thank her, and she replied that she was grateful for my words of encouragement as it is appreciation like that from parents which spur her on.

Save tip: By working hand-in-hand with their teachers, I have managed to hold out on tuition for my kids until the P5 or P6 year. Because sometimes, there are other factors which are impacting on their ability to learn and the sooner these problems are addressed, the better it is for the child.

Sane tip: Parents are allocated 15 minutes, but I have been to sessions where the wait ended up to be almost 2 hours long. You can imagine the mood of the parents and the stress of the teacher. Hardly conducive for a good discussion. Try to be concise and get to the root of the problem instead of telling stories and dwelling on one point in detail.

Educating a child is indeed a partnership between the home and the school. Hence, the more successful the partnership, the better it is for your child.


Related posts:

6 tips to really prepare your child for P1

6 things to do in the PSLE year



~ www.mummyweeblog.com - a blog on parening 6 kids in Singapore ~

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