One of the biggest parts of our job, and sometimes one of the most difficult parts of our job, is talking to parents. Usually when parents contact us, it is not for something positive. They usually contact us when they are upset or confused about something. It is important that we maintain strong home/school relationships because this will significantly benefit the student. It is important that, to the best of our abilities, home and school are on the same page. When you’re dealing with parents, try some of the following tips:
They just want to be heard
Sometimes parents, or people in general, often just need to vent. Maybe they’re not really upset about what’s happening in the classroom, maybe there is something else going on in their life that has them frustrated and short-tempered. Maybe they got yelled at by their boss at work today and they are just on edge. This is all just a part of being human. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just listen and empathize. This often helps calm down the parent and allows them to cool off, often they will realize that they’re being irrational and will apologize. I discovered this about people when I worked in retail and as a manager one of the things I did the most was listening to customer complaints. Because, what is the first thing you do when you are upset about something in a store? “Can I talk to your manager, please?” I have found that often people just need to get all of their frustration out.
Also, hearing them out may allow you to realize something you could be doing differently. Even if they are acting irrationally, some of their frustrations with you or the school are most likely valid. Listen through the yelling to hear their message. Of course if they are swearing at you or raising their voice, you do not have to listen to that and you need to end the conversation.
Sometimes they just need to hear your side of the story
A lot of parents are calling you, having only heard their child’s side of the story. The parents ask their child why they failed the test and the student goes into a rant about how hard your tests are, that nothing you told them to study was on the test, that you only gave them 10 minutes to complete the whole thing, and that you hate them. What the parent needs to hear is how the student has been fooling around in class everyday, has not done any of their homework in a week and spent half of the allotted time for the test in the bathroom or trying to get their friend’s attention. Usually, once you explain all of this to a parent, they often realize that there is more to the story and are more accepting of the bad grade. A good way to prevent this is to reach out to the parent before the student can, so that way the first side they are hearing is yours and they can respond appropriately to their child when they discuss the situation.
This is their baby
As a teacher, you have dozens to over one hundred students in the upper grades to worry about every day. It often feels overwhelming and frustrating when you have one parent or one student who is monopolizing your time. As teachers we have to remember that to little Johnny’s parents, little Johnny is the only student in your class that matters, they focus 100% of their time on their child, as they should. You may feel like the helicopter parent is just wasting your time, but they are doing everything they can to do what they feel is best for their child. These parents have spent years focusing on the health and well-being of their child, if that child is having a problem at school, they are going to try their best to fix it. Even if that means sending you an email every time a new grade is posted.
Whether or not you agree with someone’s parenting choices, we all need to remember that these parents are doing what they think is best. When you are dealing with students with disabilities, these parents are even more likely to want to be in constant contact with you. For the sake of the child, listen to these parents and calm their anxiety. If appropriate talk to the parents about building independence with the student, suggest some strategies that may get these parents the contact they want, without taking up a large chunk of your time. Maybe utilizing notes features in online grade books, or agenda checks.
No matter how angry they get, keep your cool
We have all had the parent that just wants to yell. No matter what happens, do not raise your voice in return. Remaining calm allows you to keep control of the conversation. If you allow yourself to get worked up and you begin yelling back, nothing productive will come out of the conversation and you risk saying something that you will regret. If the parent is outrageous, get your principal involved, we shouldn’t allow parents to get agressive or verbally abusive to us. Have your principal talk to them, or set up a meeting that includes your principal and/or other staff members. Maybe if the parent is upset about something you are telling them about their child, hearing it from other teachers could help them realize that you might have a point.
Use clear language
Often, people get into the habit of using educational vocabulary when talking. We all do it, but we have to remember that parents may not know the same vocabulary. If you are going to use educational jargon, make sure to explain what it means. Or, find another way to say it. When you are talking about a child’s DIBELS score, a parent most likely has no idea what that means. This causes the parent to feel inferior and it is not going to foster a strong parent/teacher relationship. I find that this can often be a problem in IEP meetings, there are things that I say that I forget are not common phrases or words and I realize from the look on the parents’ faces that I have lost them. Try to explain things to the parents like you would to an older student. You would not start talking to a high school student about their IEP using phrases like, LRE, LEA, C-grid, B-grid, full v. partial inclusion, etc..