Top 5 Things NOT to Say at Parent-Teacher Conferences

The Survey Says

There’s no need to share these warnings with veteran teachers but new teachers might want to keep in mind that there are a number of things you should not be saying at a parent conference.

While some students might be a challenge — and you might even prefer if they had the teacher across the hall —  staying positive and focusing on ways to collaboratively meet the challenges of the student have to be paramount.

ESGI and ThinkFives surveyed hundreds of teachers to find out the top things they wouldn’t share at a parent conference. Here are the Top 5 and the specific comments they advise you keep in mind only.

Anything with “Cannot”

We’ve heard coaches say that “can’t” can’t be in your vocabulary (coaches like cliches). This is particularly true at parent conferences.  Every child – particularly in elementary school – is an  honor student in the eyes of their parents. 

Stay positive. Suggest strategies to meet challenges. And work collaboratively. Never say “never” and you cannot say “cannot.”

Survey Respondents “No-Nos”

  • Your child cannot achieve.
  • I cannot help your child.
  • Your child cannot be taught at this point.
  • My students cannot do simple math like add, subtract, multiply, or divide.
  • I cannot help your child, no one can.

ThinkFives Additions

  • Your child cannot perform the simplest of tasks.  I wonder sometimes how he remembers to breathe.
  • You and your husband cannot think about having other children.

Anything About Your Lack of Time or Resources

All teachers know resources are scarce and there is never enough time to get everything done that needs to be done.  We also know that support for teachers is lacking in many schools and districts. But none of these issues should be shared with parents. Blaming the school, the district or the lack of money never helps the discussion period.

Survey Respondents “No-Nos”

  • There is nothing else I can do since we cut our support staff.
  • I don’t really know your child that well since I have so many students.
  • I don’t know how to help since this school hires uncredentialed teachers.
  • I don’t have time to help your child with his problems.
  • No matter what we do, your child will fail.

ThinkFives Additions

  • If the PreK and 1st grade teachers were any good, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
  • Describe your child again to me, I’m not recalling her.

Comparisons with Other Students

Some teachers believe comparisons are a good way to motivate students or parents. Sorry, you’re wrong. Comparisons are seldom helpful and will distract you from focusing on the real issues.  Comparisons are seldom flattering and if they are they may be insulting others.

Teachers who compare are worse than any other teacher. (Irony?)

Survey Respondents “No-Nos”

  • Your child cannot do what the other children do.
  • Your student eats like a pig.
  • Your student is the laziest student I’ve ever had.
  • I couldn’t believe she was the younger sibling of your older two children.
  • Your child is slow as molasses.

 ThinkFives Additions

  • It’s not hard to believe your child is the worst student in the school.
  • In all my years of teaching, I’ve never seen a child as …..

Questions about a Student’s Ability to Learn

Insults are never good. Insults about children are even worse. And insults about children to parents of those children are, well, worse than worse. 

You would be surprised how many times teachers unknowingly – or even worse knowingly –  insult a parent. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and if you can’t see that you should change your eyeglass prescription.

Survey Respondents “No-Nos”

  • Your child is awful.
  • Your child is lazy.
  • Your child doesn’t try.
  • Your child will never attend college.
  • Is there something wrong with your child?

ThinkFives Additions

  • If I could grade your child with a negative number, I would.
  • The good news is that your child will be more successful in this school if he stops doing drugs.

Questions about Parenting

It’s tough being a teacher. It’s also tough being a parent. One would think that each person would have sympathy for the other. That’s not always the case.

When observing student behavior you might think, “who raised this kid?” That’s probably not what your mouth should be saying. There are constructive ways to suggest parenting practices without insulting the parent.

Survey Respondents “No-Nos”

  • I see where he gets that from.
  • The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
  • Do you even care about your child’s education?
  • Do you want your child living in your basement as an adult?
  • Your kid’s behavior is based on a lack of parenting.

ThinkFives Additions

  • My professional opinion is that you should consider medication for both yourself and your kid.
  • I wish you better luck with your next child.

 What is your advice to new teachers at a Parent-Teacher Conference?


  1. Holy Cow! I hope this is a facetious list. I can’t believe that any teacher would need to be told not to say any of these comments.

  2. I would hope these have never been said but who knows? Always look for the good in any child and share that along with any academic concerns too. ❤️

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