Often the greatest challenges a teacher faces come not from their students, but rather, from their students’ parents. When a student is acting up in class or falling behind in their studies, parents are often contacted in order to alert them to the problems. Other times, parents come to teachers because they feel their child is being treated unfairly. In both instances, parents often will take the side of their child by default. This is a natural reaction and should be expected. However, the staunch defense that some parents make on behalf of their kids is sometimes overwhelming, and can quickly turn negative. In order to promote a healthy parent/teacher relationship, it is important that teachers have the skills to diffuse any overheated exchanges.
While parents may argue with you about any number of things, they can’t argue with facts. Therefore, it is important that you keep a record of issues that arise in your classroom. This applies to both behavioral and academic problems. In the case of behavioral issues, record the date and time, the incident, and what disciplinary actions you took. If it is an academic problem, information regarding slipping test scores or missing homework assignments is all relevant. It is important that you include enough information in your reports that enable you to answer any questions the parents might have. Don’t rely on your memory to recount instances of misbehavior in class, because then you risk falling into a “he said/she said” type of argument. More than likely the parent already favors the child’s word over yours.
One of the worst things you can do is respond to parent aggression with equal and opposite teacher aggression. It is your responsibility to remain levelheaded in all parent/teacher meetings. Simple tactics like exhaling before you speak, not responding to parent emails when you are angry, and choosing to talk on the phone rather than send an email are all effective ways of making sure you don’t lose your cool when dealing with parents. Always remember that both you and the parents want what is best for the student. While your opinions on what is best may differ, you can be assured that your goal is the same as that of the parents.
Meet parents in the middle
The purpose of a parent/teacher meeting is not to convince the parents that you are right and they are wrong, but rather, to secure their help in addressing student problems. You are only with a student for a limited part of their day; the parents on the other hand often live with them much longer. Therefore, parents can be your greatest allies when trying to improve student performance. As such, you have to be willing to meet the parents halfway. This means recognizing your own fallibility. Perhaps you have been too hard on a student or didn’t really know all the details of a classroom incident before assigning consequences. However, the parent/teacher meeting is not the time to debate about these past problems, but rather to work together to find a solution. Don’t spend too much time talking about what has gone wrong (detailed records will keep this part of the discussion brief). Instead, look for ways that you and the parents can work together to address the issues. Always demonstrate active listening, and let the parents talk first in order to make sure you understand their concerns before offering your own. In addition, when you do state your concerns, try to find a way to align them with the parents’ concerns to show you genuinely care about their child.