Throughout my years of teaching at our local high school, I have encountered a few meddlesome parents. Actually, I prefer the meddlesome parents to the parents who never seem to care at all about their children’s education – you know, the ones you REALLY want to talk to but will never come to the school or return your calls or emails. I’ve even had parents to tell me that their son or daughter was MY problem at school, and that they didn’t have time to worry about what or how the student was doing in class. Unfortunately, sometimes parents can become a problem. Teachers must realize, however, that a parent can be your best ally.
To forestall future problems, give students a syllabus on the first day of class that includes an overview of units, required materials, and your main learning objectives. Be sure to list your classroom rules and the consequences for breaking them. Include your school phone number, voice mailbox, and work email, and encourage parent participation. Have an attached sheet for parent signatures, stating they have received and read the syllabus, and keep it on file.
If a parent contacts you, always respond with respect and in a timely manner. I’ve always been amazed at teachers who ignore correspondence from parents, or who take forever to answer. A quick response will let the parent know that their interest or concerns are important to you.
When you speak with the parent, try to get them to pinpoint the problem. Vague statements like “Johnny doesn’t like your class” or “Susie says you don’t like her” are impossible to correct. Have the parents be specific so that you can offer solutions or explanations.
If a parent requests a conference, suggest that the student be present, and above all, be prepared. After the parent states his concerns, allow the student to voice his opinions on the matter. You never know exactly what the student has told his parents. You should have your copy of the syllabus with you, along with the parents’ verification that he has received and read it. Of course, you should also have your gradebook with you. If the student has been a discipline problem, you should have documentation of offenses and punishments.
If you suspect beforehand that the parent will become belligerent, request that an administrator be present at the meeting. The administration is there for your support, so take advantage of it. If an administrator is not present and a parent becomes verbally obusive or looses control of his emotions, there’s a psychological strategy you can employ:
Say something like, “Mr. Smith, I understand you’re upset, and that’s unfortunate. Tell me the first and second things I can do to help the situation.” This usually stops anger and aggression because we use different sides of our brains for anger and sequencing. We must stop being angry long enough to switch to putting things in order. At least, that’s what a psychologist explained to me, and I’ve tried it. It works.
Always try to point out a couple of good things about the student. I once had a conference with a frustrated parent who said I was the only teacher who had ever said anything nice about her son. That’s really sad, especially considering he was in his senior year! It’s hard for a parent to be mad at a teacher who has just stated how polite her son is, or how talented he is, or what a hard worker he is.
Most of all, it’s very important to end the conference on a positive note. After concerns have been aired and problems hashed out, work with the parent to devise a plan. If the parent believes that you truly care about the student and his success, she will usually be more than happy to help. Send the parent weekly progress reports or emails. With her pushing from home, and your pulling at school, success can be realized.
Most parents want only the best for their child. Try not to view them as “meddlesome,” but concerned. Be glad you have a parent who cares! Always give the parent and the student respect, and allow them to voive their concerns or complaints. If you can enlist the parent as a teammate, everyone wins: you, the student, and the parent.