Every teacher will encounter meddlesome parents, and the wise teacher will be prepared to handle the encounter smoothly and professionally. I am a teacher, and also a parent, and while I hope that none of my daughters’ teachers would file me under “meddlesome,” they might justifiably choose “interested” or “motivated.” Here are a few tips that will be of interest to inexperienced teachers, from one who has been on both sides of the teacher’s desk.
Some meddlesome parents will disagree with what is going on in the classroom academically. Other parents will take issue with something that is happening to his or her individual student. Let’s consider the first case first, then move on to the second.
When a parent brings a concern to me about a class practice, it will usually be a question such as “why are you studying (or neglecting) these genres or works?” I welcome a parent meeting to discuss those issues, because I see them as an opportunity to find a way to include the parent’s suggestions, and thus turn what began as a concern into a positive element in the relationship between the parent and the teacher.
It’s vitally important to enlist the parents as allies whenever possible. With the parents at home supporting and reinforcing what goes on in the classroom, it’s amazing to see how much more learning can take place. Similarly, if the parents are against the teacher, that lack of support will be a significant and insidious drag on the class’ results.
Meetings with parents who have concerns about their children (as opposed to concerns about the class as a whole) are invariably trickier and more complicated for the teacher. A parent may come to the meeting feeling that his or her child is being singled out, ridiculed, ignored, or graded unfairly. All of these are potential minefields for the teacher, but there are strategies for managing such meetings successfully. Good customer service skills are what the teacher needs in order to win over a meddlesome parent.
The teacher must not be defensive. Instead, listen and be responsive as the parent states the concerns. In a significant percentage of cases, there may be a simple misunderstanding, especially when it comes to grading or assignment issues. In my years of teaching, I was frankly floored by the difference between what I said in the classroom and what the parents understood secondhand, but those matters could be cleared up in moments when the parents come in for a conference. The real art of dealing with meddlesome parents arises when a furious parent calls for a conference regarding a pattern of perceived shortcomings.
Here again, the prudent teacher should strive to deflect the parent’s anger, and, if possible, convert the encounter into a positive foundation for moving forward with change. Teaching has an important element that is too often overlooked: customer service. Defuse, de-escalate, and compromise should be on the teacher’s agenda. The goal is to have the parent leave the meeting feeling that his or her concerns will be met.