The parent-teacher conference is a useful tool, but not if the parent and teacher become adversaries.

"The adversarial role more often than not comes when a teacher feels that a parent is better educated than he or she and is not respectful," says Margaret S. Marston, a former member of the Virginia Board of Education. "Or it comes when a parent is petrified the teacher is far better educated than he or she and feels dumb and gets angry about it."

To improve the give-and-take between parent and teacher, the National P-TA and the National Education Association have produced a videotape -- filmed at the East Silver Spring, Md., Elementary School -- offering suggestions for making the parent-teacher conference work. Among them:

Talk to your child before the conference. Make sure he isn't worried about the meeting; ask your child if there's anything she'd like you to discuss with her teacher. Ask her what her favorite, and least favorite, subjects are and why.

Be prepared. A good teacher will come prepared with samples of your child's work and ideas for improving your child's performance. Attend the meeting armed with pertinent information about your child's life at home. List your child's strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, habits, hobbies and personality traits. Let the teacher know if problems at home might affect your child.

Jot down your questions about school programs and policies and your child's progress. List the most important questions first, in case time runs out.

Parents often don't know which questions to ask. Try these: Can you and I look over a list of the learning objectives in reading, and could you indicate to me which my child has trouble with and why? How can I help my child at home so he can master them all by the end of the school year?

How well does my child get along with others? Is my child working up to potential? Does my child participate in class discussions and activities?

What kinds of tests are given? What do they tell about my child's progress? How can I better prepare my child to take tests?

If necessary, schedule a time to meet again to discuss progress on this "action plan," whether by phone, through note or in person.

Discuss the conference and action plan with your child. Regularly check your child's behavior, class work and homework to ensure the plan is working.