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It’s hard to believe parent-teacher conferences are just a week away for elementary and middle school students in the Napa Valley Unified School District. Parents should have received an invitation from their schools to sign up for a time. Oct. 5-9 will be early-release days with conferences in the afternoon. Calistoga Elementary holds conferences the same week. St. Helena’s elementary conferences are Oct. 26-30.

I can’t say enough about how important this opportunity is. If you haven’t already met with the teacher, it’s your chance to forge a partnership for your child’s benefit. Getting to school during your working hours may be a challenge, but most teachers will negotiate a time that suits both of you. And employers are obligated to give their workers time off to attend to school business.

What should you expect and how can you get the most from your conference? Perhaps the best conferences include the student, who leads the parent and teacher through his accomplishments so far. Just preparing for this type of meeting is a great process for youngsters, as it forces them to be objective about their performance.

If your child won’t be present, the teacher will probably have work samples and test scores to share as well as his or her opinion about how your child is doing. It is also an opportunity for you to ask questions and better understand your student, so come prepared. In a 20-minute conference, you should figure that at least 10 minutes will be used by the teacher, so bring paper for making notes and a list of questions or concerns to bring up, keeping the time factor in mind.

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Don’t be afraid to bring up playground or social issues. The teacher knows a lot about how your child fits in socially as well as academically. Don’t hesitate to share family issues that may be affecting your child. Whether it is marital problems, job loss, illness — if your child has a challenging situation at home, that information will help the teacher to be understanding and flexible.

After the conference, talk with your youngster about what you heard. Congratulate him on the good news and talk with him about how he can improve in any areas where things are not so good, including behavior and social skills. If you haven’t already set goals for the school year, do it now. Perhaps aim for the end of the trimester, which is in a few weeks. What improvements can be made in that time? Then use the first trimester report to refine goals for the second part of the year.

If for some reason you cannot get to school during conference week, let the teacher know as soon as possible. Many teachers schedule meetings before or after the designated days. Trust me, they all want to meet with you. You hold the key to the puzzle of your child’s character and motivation. Knowing you helps the teacher to know her students better, to tailor her attention and delivery to the needs of each child. The better that connection, the more learning takes place.

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Lenore Hirsch is a retired school principal living in Napa. Send questions to lenorehirsch@att.net. Please include your child’s age or grade.

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