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…Better Parents, Stronger Families, Successful students

It is extremely important to have good working relationships between parents and teachers. A parent is really the child’s first teacher and parental involvement is critical to student success. It is critical that both parent and teacher know that the goals for the child are indeed shared goals, both teacher and parent want what is best for the child/student.

When it comes to parent-teacher conferences, it’s a toss-up as to who least wants to be there. The nervous parents braced to hear the worst about their beloved child, or the determined teacher prepared to deliver news that isn’t always expected or appreciated. However much we might dread it, though, both parents and teachers know that regular – and honest – communication is essential to student success. The most important strategy for parent-teacher conferences, of course, is to be prepared.

WHY PREPARATION IS SO IMPORTANT

A conference with your child’s teacher is similar to a visit to the doctor’s office. You have a lot that you want to talk about, and a limited amount of time. The better prepared you are going in, the more beneficial the meeting will be for both you and the teacher. Here are some tips for a productive parent/teacher conference, along with a list of good questions for you to ask the teacher.

STEPS TO TAKE BEFORE THE CONFERENCE

Talk with your child before the conference. Several days before the conference ask your child some very specific questions about school. Find out if your child has any specific concerns about schoolwork or relationships with classmates. What would he like you to ask the teacher? What does he like best about school? Are there any subjects at school that he’s having trouble with? If he could change anything about school what would it be?

• If possible, go to the conference together. This lets the teacher know that both of you are involved in your child’s education. And you can compare notes on what you heard and talk over how to deal with the information when you get home.

• If your child has brought home homework, be sure you are familiar with the assignments and how your child has been performing. Is the work getting done? Does your child seem to understand the assignments? Does the work seem too easy or too difficult?

Prepare a list of questions you want to ask your child’s teacher: Once you’re in a meeting with the teacher it may be hard to remember what you wanted to talk about. Jot down your questions beforehand and bring them to the conference. Is my child meeting expectations for learning and behavior? How has my child performed on daily class assignments, on tests, on homework assignments? How is my child compared to others in basic skills? Does my child follow school rules or does he/she exhibit any behavior problems? If my child is struggling in any area, what has been tried to improve performance? Does my child pay attention in class? What else can be done at home or at school? What are my child’s strengths? Are there any concerns about my child’s health, adjustment? Are there materials or resources that you would recommend?

Ask if you’ll have an opportunity to speak with your child’s other teacher. It’s not unusual for even first graders to have separate teachers for subjects such as Art or Computers. But if you’re particularly interested in talking to one of them about your child’s progress, ask your child’s primary teacher when you make your conference appointment.

HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR CONFERENCE TIME

Stick to talking about your child. Most parent/teacher conferences last only 20 minutes. Don’t use this time to ask questions about basic school policies. That kind of information can usually be found in the school’s handbook, on its Web site, or by calling the office during business hours. This is your chance to get detailed feedback on your child, so grab it while you can.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something or feel your concerns are not being addressed, don’t hesitate to ask. Teachers and other educators easily slip into jargon and forget that many parents are not familiar with the terms they use every day. Ask what test scores mean and what the results mean for your child. Stop and ask for explanation of unfamiliar terms or programs. Not understanding can quickly lead to misunderstanding! You know your child better than anyone, so take the initiative.

You want to hear good news about your child. If the teacher does not offer any positive comments, ask directly! (What does my child do well?) And remember that teachers often hear only negative comments too. Be sure to try to offer a compliment, a thank-you, etc. to let the teacher know you appreciate what they are trying to do to help your child-even when it doesn’t seem to be working.

Establish a rapport with the teacher. The first parent/teacher conference is a chance to get to know the teacher. If you’re both on the same page from the start, the child will get more out of his/her year in this teacher’s classroom. If you can make a connection early in the year, it will be easier to talk to the teacher in the future about any questions or concerns. To get off on the right foot, first listen to what the teacher has to say, and then base your questions on what is said. You may also want to ask the teacher something about themselves, their teaching philosophy, etc. to get a better understanding of who they are.

• Every parent wants to hear how wonderful his or her child is — and the teacher should tell you about your child’s special skills and achievements. But one of the main functions of these conferences is to point out areas where your child has room to develop. Be ready to collaborate, not attack or defend! Generally teachers will give parents bad news because they want to help the child do better, not to place blame on the parent or child. But sometimes the message does not come across that way and parents naturally become defensive and protective, maybe even angry. Keep in mind that this is a part of all parent-teacher conferences. Assume the teacher has your child’s best interests in mind and respond calmly and tactfully. Indicate that you are most concerned with solving the problem and helping your child succeed. Offer to meet further to discuss the problem and work out a solution. The point of this meeting is to get an assessment of how your child is doing in school and to look for ways you can help him do even better. Remind yourself that the teacher is on your side and the two of you have the same goal: to help your child learn all that he can.

Take a notepad and pen. After the meeting is over you may forget some of what you discussed. Jotting things down as you go along will help jog your memory later. Taking notes is also a good way to let the teacher know you’re really paying attention.

How well your child fits in socially can affect how well he learns. Ask the teacher how he gets along with the other students. Does he always hang out at recess with the same kids? Who are they? Is he bullying anyone? Is anyone bullying him? Is the teacher concerned about your child’s ability to get along with others and participate in class?

Give the teacher relevant information. Let the teacher know of any changes at home. A new baby, a divorce, or a death in the family can all affect the way your child behaves in the classroom. Resist the urge to talk about his successes outside of school, though. As much fun as it is to tell cute stories, this meeting is about assessing your child’s academic progress.

When speaking to other teachers stick to their area of expertise. If you have the opportunity to meet with your child’s other teachers, limit your questions to their particular subject. Discuss art with the art teacher, reading with the reading expert and so on.

Leave with an action plan. Before you shake hands and say goodbye, find out the best way to follow-up with the teacher. Can you call her? Does she have an email address you can use? You may think of other questions later, and find out the best way to ask them. As you end the conference, review any decisions that you’ve made together. And if you feel it’s necessary, request another meeting.

WHAT TO DO AFTER THE CONFERENCE

Tell your child how it went. Your child will be interested to know that you met his teacher and talked about his school work. Your first priority should always be to pass on praise — yours and the teacher’s — before bringing up any issues of concern. You should also follow up on anything your child talked about before the meeting. If your child was concerned about a bully, for instance, tell him that you talked to his teacher and what the two of you decided to do about the problem. Following up like this gives your child a sense that he is heard and that you will take his concerns seriously. Laying the groundwork now will make it easier for him to confide in you as he gets older.

Stay in touch with the teacher. Now that you’ve opened the door to communication, don’t wait for the next conference to talk. Call her in a few weeks and update her on something you talked about during the conference. Just like any budding relationship, this one needs to be nurtured.

SOME GREAT QUESTIONS TO ASK THE TEACHER

1. Is my child working up to his ability? How is progress measured?

2. Is there anything we can do at home to reinforce the skills that you’re working on in the classroom? How can I support your teaching program at home? How can I monitor my child’s completion of assignments on a daily basis?

3. How much time should my child be spending on his homework?

4. What are my child’s strengths and weaknesses?

5. What can we do to help develop our child’s weak areas? What does he need to work on and how can I help? Get specific feedback, such as “has difficulty combining sentences” or “has difficulty summarizing stories,” as well as specific information about how you can tackle any issues.

6. What are my child’s academic talents?

7. How are the grades determined? — are tests weighted the same as homework and in-class assignments? How do you evaluate students? Do tests, attendance and homework all count towards grades?

8. What is my child like in class?

9. What is my child’s learning style? (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Tactile)?

10. How does my child interact with the other kids? Does my child seem happy and engaged in school? Who are her friends? Is she showing good behavior with classmates and adults? (Get specific feedback.)

11. Is there anything that I can share with you about my child and what he’s like at home?

12. What skills will my child be expected to master this year in key subjects like Math, English, Science, and History?

13. Which, if any, standardized tests will be administered this year?

14. Are there any support programs to help kids who need a little extra attention? When are you available if my child needs extra help?

15. How do you accommodate differences in learning? How do you differentiate lessons to meet the needs of my child?

16. What is your preferred method of communication with parents (email, telephone, notes home, Web site, etc.)?