Parent/Teacher Interview Tips: Ask “What Does My Child Know Now?”


This is the first post in a series covering four critical questions you need to ask your child’s teacher in your next parent-teacher interview:

  1. Question #1 – “What does my child know now?”
  2. Question #2 – “What will you teach him/her next in (pick a curriculum)?”
  3. Question #3 – “How will you know that s/he knows it?”
  4. Question #4 – “How will I know that she knows it?”

Question #1 – What does my child know now?

Most initial teacher/parent interviews take place after the first 4-6 weeks of school. Sometimes they follow the first “report card” of the season.
Parents are usually most interested in knowing that their child(ren) are adjusting to the new class, the new teacher and whatever other changes have occurred in the new year.  Parents often forget to ask about exactly what their child(ren) are or are supposed to be learning. This discussion tends to get short shrift, because the teacher assures them that their student is “adjusting well”. – whatever that means.

Drilling down to the next level

Parents should be asking specific questions about the actual coursework that their student is expected to be learning, especially in basic areas of curriculum. The teacher should be able to show concrete examples of what any particular student is or is not achieving. After all, most teachers in most classrooms spend the first month of the new school year doing reviews of things the students are expected to know before the new curriculum is launched. There should be a written record of that review in the documents and worksheets the child produced.
At very least, I would expect the teacher to have a portfolio for each child with samples of the worksheets, exercises, and projects that they have reviewed. Looking at a page of math word problems and the way in which the student performed in solving them is a much better yardstick than hearing the teacher explain that s/he is “a little behind in math”.
Parents should be provided a laundry list of the specific skills their child is learning and how they performed on each one. If the teacher does not or cannot produce such a list, then they are really indicating that they are unsure of what your child actually knows.

Option # 1

If the teacher does not provide a list of reasonably specific objectives and any paperwork to show progress in the direction of achieving those objectives, the parent needs to ask;

  • What specifically is my student learning in math at the moment?
  • What exactly are you teaching in your reading program this term?
  • How does your spelling program work?
  • My student doesn’t like writing stories. What are you teaching in creative writing this year?
  • What specific reading comprehension skills does your reading program teach?
  • Are your students doing any cursive writing exercises this term?

Option #2

Many teachers will not have sufficient answers to such pointed questions. They are not usually asked pointed questions which expect specific information to answer them. You have probably caught your child’s teacher off guard.  No problem. Book a second appointment as follow-up during the next few days so that the teacher has the opportunity to gather the materials to answer your questions.

The Result

Your child’s teacher now knows that you are a more demanding parent who has legitimate questions that s/he should expect to answer. When the next interview comes along a few months later, s/he will most likely be much better prepared. If you do not get the information you need to assess your child’s progress, you need to keep a presence with the teacher, the school principal if necessary, and even further up the chain of responsibility if necessary. Here are a couple of tips to help you keep on track during teacher/parent meetings.

Tip # 1 – Stick to the question. Do not get distracted by the discussion or sidetracked by other influences and explanations.  Return to the question. Show me the data.

Tip # 2 – Never leave a meeting without an appointment for the next meeting. That way they know that you are coming back.  Most parents just get brushed off and stop attending parent/teacher meetings because they see little of value in them.

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