Parent communications are one of the most challenging parts of a teacher’s job. If you say what parents want to hear, you may not say what they need to hear. If you say what they need to hear, they may be upset enough to talk to your AP. And if you don’t say anything, everybody gets angry. It seems like it might be a lose-lose situation to ever talk to parents.
At least, this is how things might feel to new teachers. New teachers often fear the anger of parents and the potential administrative hassle that ensues if parents go to administrators. For those of you new to teaching, I’d like to ease your mind with some facts about how parents think and behave:
- Parents want only what’s best for their kids. Sure, some parents can be a little bit overbearing at times, but this is occurs simply because they want their children to be treated fairly and get all the help they need.
- Parents – like all people – can sometimes be tactless. In my thousand years of teaching, I’ve had my share of parents who said tactless and offensive things to me. However, when you look past the angry words, you usually find that parents are just frustrated and need to blow off some steam. It’s too bad that we’re the ones who deal with that steam, but we shouldn’t take it personally. Again, this just reflects parents’ strong desire to make sure their kids succeed.
- Parents are hearing two versions of the same story. If Johnny has made a mistake of some kind, they may have told their parents that it was your fault to get off the hook. As a result, parents may come in with unusual ideas about what has happened and what the proper response is. With a little patience, this should be easily solved.
Now that we’ve seen how parents can sometimes seem more unreasonable than they are, let’s discuss some things we can do to make parent communications more constructive:
- ALWAYS tell the complete truth about everything. If you’ve made a mistake, the very best thing you can do is to admit it. It may hurt to admit that the child is right, but I’ve found that parents universally understand that people make mistakes and respect people who admit it. Additionally, it’s also pretty hard for a parent to maintain anger at somebody who admits they were at fault and tries to make amends for it.
- Keep good records: If a child says that you did XYZ, you should be ready to produce XYZ and any other pertinent information to demonstrate that this is not the case. If something happens in your classroom that you think might become an issue (i.e. a child causes a disruption, a child performs exceptionally poorly on an assignment), it’s good for you to have a written account of what happened, as well as a paper trail, if possible.
- Maintain a positive attitude. Once again, parents usually just want what’s best for their children. If you can keep this in the back of your head during difficult meetings or email exchanges, you’ll have an easier time dealing with parental issues.
- Don’t be a punching bag: If a parent becomes verbally or physically abusive, immediately refer the matter to your assistant principal. It’s not your job to handle things like this, whether or not you feel that it’s your responsibility. Stand firm, and let them deal with it, as they’ve seen it all before.
Above all, don’t let this turn you off from teaching. You will occasionally run into parents that drive you crazy, but far more often you’ll find parents who care about their child and (believe it or not) care about you. If you build on this goodwill, you’ll find that parent communications become simple and easy.
Most of the time, anyway.