5 Rules on Parent/Teacher Conferences


As the time approaches for spring conferences, I thought it would be helpful to offer some advice to parents as you head in.

Time is limited to have a meaningful conversation with your child’s teacher at Parent/ Teacher Conferences, so be sure to make the most of the time you have. Here are 5 simple rules to follow that can make the difference in helping your child in Elementary and Middle School:

1. Stop focusing on the Grades: Especially in Elementary School and even Middle School, parents tend to focus way too much on whether or not Johnny is getting straight A’s. Let me be clear, grades are important, however the need to debate turning some B’s into A’s is ludicrous. Harvard will not be checking Johnny’s 5th Grade report card to determine his acceptance or rejection. The question to ask is whether or not your child is giving a great effort towards their education. It is about preparing your child for their future education: A “hard-working” C is better than a “lazy” A!

2. Identify Strengths and Weaknesses: You will most likely be surprised as a parent to hear what the teacher sees as both strengths and weaknesses. Seeing your child in the different light of a classroom allows the teacher to be open-minded and not be prejudiced towards certain actions. Each child can truly start with a clean slate every year, so the teacher should be able to express individually what he or she sees in your child. Celebrate and be proud of the strengths your child demonstrates, but take more notice about their weaknesses. Each child is only as strong as their weakest link. The question to ask is simply what strengths and weaknesses does the teacher see in your child. No child has every suffered low self-esteem based upon their strengths.

3. Importance of Social vs. Academic: If you are focused on grades, you will never get to the most important factor for success in life. Your child’s ability to socialize with their classmates is just as, or, I would argue, more important than their academics to be successful in life. Collaborating with partners and groups is a fact of today and tomorrow’s workplace, and those skills are developed throughout the school day, in the classroom, at lunch, and at recess. The question to ask is what does the teacher see in your child’s ability to interact with others in the school, not just with classmates, but all students, staff, etc. Some of the greatest ideas have been lost because someone never voiced them.

4. Identifying Gifted/Remedial: You may feel as if your child needs to be placed into Gifted and Talented, or needs remedial help. Should you wish to discuss the options, or requirements for either, please make sure to have some documentation. For GnT, your opinion that your child is as smart as Billy who is in GnT, is not the requirement. If your child is not receiving straights A’s on average, then please be rational. As for remedial help, be passionate about the help your child needs, but come with organized thoughts not centered on grades. Behaviors that you see at home that can be compared to what is seen at school is extremely helpful. Also understand that there is a difference between a struggling student and one who needs remedial help. The question to ask, either way, is whether or not the teacher observes your child on the same level as you do, and what steps can be put into place to 1) help your child immediately, and 2) ensure your child receives proper support if identified in observation. In either case, GnT or Remedial, documentation to support your child will go a long way.

5. Place your Pride aside: While it is great to hear your child is doing well, there will be times that you will receive information you don’t agree with or don’t want to hear. Keep an open mind about what is being said and how the situation can be rectified. The last thing a teacher wants to do is create an irate parent by making up situations. It is not a knock on your parenting abilities, just simply communicating the situation they observe to obtain the best possible solution WITH you. Also, remember that for the teacher, it is NEVER about you and parenting, it is ALWAYS about what is best for the student. The question to ask is what can I do to help solve this issue. It is a sensitive discussion that every teacher dreads having to approach, and you reaching out an olive branch of joining forces will be welcomed.

As an added bonus, never be afraid to ask you the teacher for advice on helping your child. How to help a child with Homework is something most parents want to know. You can ask for a list of questions to ask to help with Reading Comprehension, options in developing study skills and note taking, or even help with the “new ways” of solving math problems. Just don’t ask if they have extra workbooks for you to have. They spend enough of their hard-earned money on the students, and I am letting you know that the local teacher supply stores are open to the public. You can purchase most teaching materials there and get help from the sales person who is usually a teacher or former teacher themselves, or simply ask during your conference where you can go and what is recommended for your child!


Hidden Agenda vs Public School Education?


The Common Core State Standards are leading the way to improve the American Education System.  Based upon their performance on PARCC and Smarter Balance Testing, students will be expected to show “Mastery” and their teachers will be evaluated based upon those results.  Supporting individuals clearly state that this is a great check and balance system with high expectations and standards that will be consistent for each and every child.  What is wrong with having high standards?  Especially with our educational system in a free fall, becoming engulfed by the rest of the world? Well…….

What if all the media surrounding Common Core State Standards and Standardized Testing is propaganda aimed at completely destroying any and all positive support for Public School Education?  Could there be a force sinister enough to collaborate behind the scenes in an effort to destroy the foundation of America that has educated many successful generations?  The first question that would need to be answered is whether or not our children are truly falling behind when compared to the rest of the world. When you look at the PISA and TIMSS results, it seems that our students have consistently ranked about the same year after year, slightly above average.  This is nothing to yell out in the streets about, but where does the panic of our declining educational system come from?  The 2010 Brown Center Report on American Education outlines the status of our educational system while debunking some myths surrounding it like the belief “that the United States once led the world on international tests of achievement. It never has.” We could argue why comparisons of educational systems via standardized testing is wrong and slighted, but it would do nothing to help identify what the problem is. As the rest of the world has invested into their own educational systems, they have dramatically improved. Does this mean that the US system has declined, or simply that many countries around the world are educating their students at a higher level that is now in comparison with the US?

So why the outcry about our “failing” school system? Well, it seems to me that anytime politics becomes involved, money is somewhere behind the scenes, so lets see where the money goes through my average joe eyes. Here in New Jersey, there are districts that are struggling to educate their children, especially in the inner cities like Newark and Camden. This is nothing new, and when you compare inner city students across the country, most are labeled as struggling. With that being said, one can easily see why these districts are targeted as if the blame is squarely on the inner city schools. Our Governor is pushing the development of Charter Schools, and personally, I have no issue with the development of any type of school that may help children, but it should never be at the expense of those in the Public Education field. The push is directed at these identified struggling districts because no one will question the attacks except for those stakeholders directly affected, and who is going to listen to the complaints coming from these inner city stakeholders? Even when the testing data shows that the Public Schools are outperforming the Charters, the propaganda drowns out the positive news. It is alarming to hear that in Newark, even though the Public continues to outperform the Charter, funding continues to be cut to the Public Schools. Do what you need to make the public schools perform negatively. This is a simple game of money and politics. All you have to do is look at who is being hired to run these Charter Schools, and simply connect the dots back to the politicians. It is an absolute shame because it is the children who suffer in this game. 

Our students losses are at Big Businesses gains! It has become big enough to even get coverage as an Investment Opportunity! In other words, the Charter Schools will do whatever it takes to make money, for that is the business it is in. Think about that……..Now think about what is best for your child? Sadly, it has never been proven that Charter Schools are better performing. When you look into it, what is truly different?  Are the classrooms different? Are the teaching styles revolutionary? Simply, the answer is No. In comparison, they are in the same class as a private school. One in which they get to select which students get to attend, and have the option to dismiss students who are not performing up to their level, both options of which a Public School does not have. The difference is that big business is playing with the guaranteed funds of our taxes. By preying on the hopes and dreams of the inner city school parents who are fed up with the failures of the inner city schools, these charter schools will continue to expand. If these charter schools simply educated our students better, then why is the focus in the inner city? If they simply educate better, and are the answer to making the US #1, then I along with everyone else would want my children to go there also.

The problem with America’s Educational System is that money and politics got involved! From NCLB to CCSS, our focus is to solve the propaganda that our educational system is somehow failing our students. The truth be told, we are failing our students………simply because the focus is on everything else, but THE STUDENTS!! I was lucky to have worked under the great leadership of Principal Joe Vicari and Asst. Principal Alan Ball at one point in my career who advised in one of our first meetings: “Ed, don’t make teaching too complicated. Truly care for each student, set high expectations, and the rest will take care of itself!” Many of my prior posts explain how I feel, and how my students believed in my classroom, so I want to be clear.  Spreading propaganda about a failing educational system is the work of those who would benefit the most to do so. Those who have gained the most are…….Politicians and Charter Schools. When it comes to Public Education and its funding, big business should have no business in it.  Why would anyone think that a better educational system is one in which the focus is on the bottom line? We need to place the focus back on the STUDENT(S) and provide the solutions necessary to meet each and every one of their NEEDS to succeed. Let’s get back to setting high expectations, identifying their needs, and caring for each individual child, so the rest can take care of itself!!

1 Simple Message for Success in the Classroom!


So there have been requests as to how a teacher can develop a classroom with high expectations and hold students accountable.  Below is one of my handouts that would be delivered on the first day of school, and each student would be asked to read out loud and sign with the promise to do the best they can to achieve. There would always be one available for students to reread at a moments notice.  I would also cover this pledge with parents on Back to School Nights as I explained my expectations for the students in my class.  I believe it sets a high standard from the start and it is something that my students and parents appreciated. I do believe that if your students give you their best effort, success will follow!


         To be successful in life, I must be disciplined.  I must be willing to give my best effort without being asked.  I must develop an ability to drive and push myself, especially when things are tough.  I must not be afraid to make mistakes.  Everyone will make them.  Winners are those people who learn from their mistakes and continue to strive toward their goals.  I must do what it takes to be a winner.  I must be willing to look past what others do because I understand that only I can control what I do.  With this knowledge, winners will never blame others for their mistakes.  Winners will assume responsibility for their actions, suffer the consequences, and resume the track of success.

I am the one who is responsible for the positive and negative praise that I receive for my work.  It is my decisions that will determine my reputation, and my fate.  Successful people are not born they are made.  I must strive to become successful no matter what path I choose, because I understand that if I don’t strive to be successful, someone else will.  I cannot blame others for my lack of success; I can only blame myself for my lack of effort.

“Am I proud…” Is a perfect way to start knowing if I am on the right track.  If I am not proud of my effort or work, then how can I expect others to respect my work or me?  Anything that has my name on it will reflect the type of person I am, and the type of person I will be remembered as.  I must understand that success is never easy.  Success is hard work and I must be willing to give a great effort in order to receive the rewards of success.


10 Thoughts a Teacher Hopes All Parents Know

In my 15+ years of teaching 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students, I tried to keep a very complicated system as simple as possible. We kept our standards high and did our best to reach them. I only asked one simple question to determine the success of my students and their efforts….”Are you PROUD?”

Whether I was talking with the smartest kid in class, or the one who struggled the most, this one question was all I could ask for from each and every student. There is a connection when you look a student in the eye and ask this one question that any standardized testing will never be able to capture. Let’s remember that every student is an individualized learning anomaly. As parents, it is hard to keep an open mind when your child is grouped with his or her peers and is struggling in comparison. However, just like learning to walk, each child is able to rise on their own 2 feet when their mind and body are ready to do so. The main objective for both parent and teacher is to be a great supportive net to help each and every child when they are ready, and be there to support them in good and bad times.

With that being said, I always wanted my students’ parents to know 10 things when their child was in my care:

1. Your child does not treat me as they do you. You are their parent and they will test you 100 times more.  Don’t get me wrong, they will also test me in the classroom (it is a part of growing up), however, I have the power of peers, the Principal, and you on my side. If you teach your children to be respectful, chances are they are being respectful!

2. In Elementary School, your child will tell lots of stories of what goes on at home! We only believe half of what they say, but the question is what half do we believe?? 🙂

3.  I am not perfect. I, too, will make mistakes. I am sorry. If there is a problem, please approach me with a mindset of what is best for your child, and don’t hold it against me. (Remember I know we are both not perfect- see #2!)

4. Your child’s education is not about you and any embarrassment you may have. I simply want what is best for your child to be successful. This may mean being honest with your child. There is nothing wrong with being honest about negative behaviors you are observing with your child as long as you reassure them you are there to support. Please work with me if I approach you. I am doing so to help your child, not to inconvenience you.

5. Most important- Stop focusing on getting Straight A’s!! This is propaganda being pushed by society. If your child gets a C, it does not mean they are failing, it means they were average. There is nothing wrong with having a goal of A’s, but getting some B’s and C’s in 4th grade will NOT stop your child from getting accepted into Harvard as you may have planned. I do not give out grades, your child earns them. Be PROUD of a “hard earned C”, because it is better than an “easy A”!

6. Elementary School is NOT as easy as you remember it. Sure adding and subtracting is easy for you now, but can you find the mean, mode and median? How about naming the parts of a plant cell? Indirect objects? Prepositional Phrases? How about labeling all 50 States and their Capitals? Trust me, your child is not struggling to frustrate you. Take a deep breathe, remain calm, and listen. (Remember that I have to do this with 25+ students everyday!) Frustration is a fine line- It is good cause it means they still CARE and desire to be better! However,  you have to be careful, because the next step is to quit. Make sure your child knows “You are not allowed to quit!” No matter how frustrated they are, let them know you care too and will help or get help for them!

7. The most important skills your child needs to learn in Elementary school are- Study Skills! From flash cards, to note taking, your child must learn to study for Secondary and Post Secondary years. Especially keep an eye on your child if they are a straight A student- as elementary school may be too easy, but eventually the subject matter will become increasingly difficult and they will be ill-prepared to study and ill-equipped to handle failure.

8. Don’t compare your child’s learning to any other child’s learning. For both success and struggle, asking your child to be like another child is just wrong. Keep it focused on what your child can accomplish. Forming better study habits or asking for help, are reachable tasks that can help a C student shoot for a C+ or B on the next test/report card. If you know your child has worked hard, be proud, show encouragement and your child will continue to put forth the effort and blossom!

9. Don’t compare me to any other teacher your child has had, or will have. We, like the students, are unique in our own ways and styles of teaching. What makes this great is that it mimics the real world where your child must adapt to others in leadership. From colleagues to the boss, your child must use the experience of school to help adapt into the workforce. Social Skills are important to learn during these years, so empower your child by allowing them to handle their issues. Your support is important, but your personal involvement should be the last option.

10. Lastly, but most importantly, I care for your child as if they are my own (In my mind, they are a part of my family and always will be). I have but 180 days to instill a passion to be a life long learner and empower them to chase their dreams. It is NEVER about straight A’s, but rather taking steps forward, no matter how small. Failure is NOT an option.  I will be there to help out even when they have moved on to higher grades if ever needed.  I am just a phone call or email away, for help, or simply to update me!

Just like every other profession out there, 10% are bad teachers. Unfortunately you will have to experience one or two educating your child. Use it as a learning experience in adapting to make the most of a bad situation (for you and your child), and never hold it against your next teacher! Do what you need to support your child and document everything!  Lastly, if your child is struggling and you feel there is something wrong, ask for your child to be tested. Document all of your worries and things you see, approach your teacher, and don’t stop until you see results. Lastly- remember to “Thank a Teacher” when you appreciate the work they are doing. At a time of teacher evaluations based on standardized tests, government mandates, and the norm of teacher bashing, a simple handshake or a note is priceless in uplifting the spirit of a teacher.

To all of the parents whose children are now considered “my kids” also, I thank you!  Thank you for your support. Thank you for your input. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your efforts. I did my best everyday to be a positive influence on the students.  I am proud to say that your children have had as much of a positive influence on me!

Don’t forget to Follow, Like, and Share the message! Thanks!

Is Multiple Choice Testing Fair? A. Yes, B. No

As I walked around the room watching my students take the “BIG Test” at the end of the year, I could see the frustration and confusion in their faces. I just didn’t understand why. They were one of my best classes and were well prepared. My belief was that if I prepared them in knowledge, the test would take care of itself; I never taught to the test.

I did however take a look at the test and what I saw made my blood boil to a huge issue with so much riding on these tests.

Lets see how you do: Problem on 4th grade test.

Directions: Estimate (Simple enough, right?)

37 x 8= ___             A. 400    B. 240   C. 320   D. 32

If one can’t see that there is a problem then they are blind to the fact to show understanding means to be able to explain their process and answer. As an adult, our thinking process has already been skewed by our experiences. Most will say that the answer is obviously C, and they would be correct by the test’s standards.  However, why even have A or B as a possibility? The directions simply state to “Estimate”- it does not ask for the “best estimate”.

For 4th graders, it is simply wrong for test makers to place the “correct answer” along with the “next best answer”. Not only does this confuse the child, but also produces feelings of anxiety over which answer to choose. I have had plenty of students who could explain choosing answer A because 40 x 10= 400 would be an acceptable answer!  Even though most would consider answer B wrong, a student does show ability and understanding of estimating by explaining that 30 x 8= 240 and the real answer would be higher.

Multiple Choice tests were developed to help save time and effort in grading. However, they do a disservice by not allowing the student to explain their thinking process and for the teacher to hear it, and help to correct it if necessary! Yet, this is one of the prime methods of testing and we are determining both student and teacher evaluations of understanding on them? I am not arguing that C is not the “Best Answer”, however, our concern should be whether or not the student can explain the process, while getting the right answer. Does a Multiple Choice test accomplish what is necessary to identify strengths and weaknesses?  A. Yes,  B. No, C. Never has, Never will.