In my experience, nearly every parent could use a few reminders when it comes to parent teacher conferences – but Spanish speaking and immigrant parents may have special challenges to consider.
I wanted to get the perspective of Dr. Andrea Ramirez, who is not only an authority on education reform, but is also a mother with school-aged children herself. She recently attended her own parent-teacher conference, and her insights and advice are extremely helpful for anyone who is about to go through the process with their own child.
Q: What should Hispanic and other immigrant parents be aware of regarding parent-teacher conferences?
For Latino parents who did not go to school in this country, parent-teacher conferences can be perplexing and downright intimidating experiences. In many Hispanic cultures which value high power distance, teachers are to be revered and not so much challenged or questioned by parents. Furthermore, a cultural difference expert, Geert Hofstede, notes high power distance cultures tend to be more teacher-centered as opposed to student-centered. Teachers are the ones that initiate communication not parents and surely not students. While we deeply respect our teachers in America, it’s appropriate and encouraged to collaborate with a child’s teacher. Many first-generation Hispanics may struggle to embrace seeing themselves as equal partners with educators. This “power distance” differential can result in significant missed opportunities for parents who simply don’t understand how best to proceed.
The T.A.G. approach stands for: Teacher Feedback + Assessments + Grades. All three of these tools work together to give parents a clearer picture of their child’s academic progress and needs.
Q: Starting with Teacher Feedback, what is appropriate to ask and what is expected of parents?
Whether your child is the top performing student in the class or is struggling to keep up, invite your child’s teacher to provide insights, opportunities for growth, and a glimpse into your child’s school life. Be sure you also share any concerns (social, learning, environment, etc.) or family issues that might impact your student, and areas in which you see academic strengths in your child. It’s important to be as honest as possible.
Remember to follow what my child’s teacher refers to as your “mama gut.” In other words, follow your instinct and speak up. Only a few weeks ago, I experienced this first-hand in my own parent teacher conference. I noticed that my first-grade daughter was struggling to articulate a few different phonogram sounds. It was subtle, so I thought perhaps it was premature to be concerned, but I mentioned it to the teacher anyway. She hadn’t noticed the issue, but trusted my “mama gut,” and said she would observe my daughter in the days to follow. Sure enough, my daughter’s teacher confirmed the issue, and with her teacher’s assistance, my daughter is now working with a speech pathologist to correct the issue so it won’t become a problem. You know your child like no one else, so don’t be afraid to provide a teacher with your uniquely important insights.
Statewide assessments can be an important tool to gauge the year-to-year progress your child is making in school. States like Texas, with its Log In and Learn initiative, are taking an innovative approach to arm parents with solid information, such as specific content areas of the test and the questions their children missed. Regardless of which state you live in, I encourage every parent to save their child’s annual assessment scores and bring them to their first parent teacher conference of the year. It’s perfectly appropriate to ask questions about any problem areas from previous years and to ask if the teacher may be witnessing similar struggles.
For Hispanic parents, there are a few studies that reveal just how important these statewide assessments can be in gauging the progress of a student. A 2016 Learning Heroes study showed that 87 percent of Hispanic parents believe their child is performing at grade level in math, but the reality is that only 26 percent of grade four Hispanic students are proficient. According to the latest National Assessment of Education Progress (NEAP) results, just 12 percent of Hispanic high school seniors are proficient or above in math. This gap between perception and reality can be resolved by opening parent-teacher communication about assessment results. The key is to fully address any troubles or issues your child might be having and assessments provide measurable information for parents and teachers. Teachers can also help find solutions, like specialized coursework, to address the issue.
Q: So how should parents address their child’s report card?
This is a critical question to consider. Although grades are a good measure of how your student is progressing academically, grades alone cannot provide a clear picture of student progress. If grades are not combined with teacher feedback and statewide assessments, parents can miss the full picture of how their student is progressing. Consider this, grades can vary from school to school and classroom to classroom, especially if your family has relocated to a new state or school district. It is essential to view grades as just one benchmark of academic success, combining them with these other tools to offer an accurate measurement of progress.
Q: What’s the most important thing for parents to remember when it comes to parent-teacher conferences?
The core idea is that educational success is a combination of many factors, and parent-teacher partnerships provide a strong foundation for a child to truly succeed. Parents who prioritize communication with their child’s teacher, and utilize the T.A.G. approach, set their child up for a powerful year of learning. Your next parent-teacher conference can make all the difference in clearing obstacles from your child’s path to educational excellence.
Dr. Andrea Ramirez is the executive director of the Faith and Education Coalition, with 2,568 members representing almost 3,000 local churches in 44 states, the Faith and Education Coalition advocates for high-quality education options for all of America’s children.