Some parents are more challenging than others.
We all have war stories. I’ve had parents defend their children’s lies, accuse me of losing papers that their child hadn’t handed in, and tell me they didn’t think the detention I assigned was appropriate. They didn’t think I liked their child. They send emails demanding an explanation for every point taken off an essay. They complain when you take too long to grade tests. It’s your fault if their child plagiarizes or cheats because you hadn’t told them not to.
The war stories are as varied as children are, but the result is the same – you feel defensive because they’re either making unreasonable demands or unwarranted accusations.
Now that we’re remote schooling, the parent complaints have shifted. “It’s too hard for my child to understand this since you’re never available for extra help” was an email sent to me 2 hours after I’d held an extra help Zoom that her child didn’t attend. “He says he turned it in on time” refers to an assignment that was turned in, blank, three hours late.
Let me start by saying that if you’re at fault, then you need to fix it. These 8 steps are for when you’re not at fault but are taking the heat.
What’s the best way to deal with parent conflict?
- Prevention is the best cure. The best way to handle conflict with the parents of your students is before it happens. From the outset, reach out to parents. Build rapport by sending frequent emails like “Johnny did a great job today during the class discussion on turtles” and “Suzie has been extra sweet to the new girl in class.” Think of these little emails as setting up the expectation that you want what’s best for their kids. Later, when there is an issue, the parents will already have the mindset that you’re a good guy.
- The Ol’ Sandwich Technique. Be sure you sandwich any criticism of the student between compliments. “Jerry has lovely penmanship. I just wish he wouldn’t demonstrate it by writing on the walls of the boy’s room. Although I must compliment his use of metaphors.”
- Ask Questions and listen to the answers. “How did Diane’s math teacher help her last year?” and “What would be a better way to communicate with you?” help give you a better understanding of what they’re looking for and establish you as a problem solver.
- Whose team are you on? Find things that you agree on. When a conflict arises, the tone you need to set is “We both want the same thing.” Of course I don’t want Mary to feel that her effort isn’t appreciated and Peter is welcome to come for extra help any time he wants. Accusations, blame, or any other tone will escalate the problem.
- You’re the authority. No matter how few years you have under your belt, approach every conflict with the attitude that you have the skills to help this child.
- Look beyond the grades. It’s a shame that Billy gets a zero on this assignment, but hopefully he’ll learn that plagiarism is a mistake.
- Document everything. As knowledgeable, supportive, accommodating, and helpful as you are, some people can’t be pleased. Document every effort you made to support their child. You’ll likely never need it, but 6 months from now, when they accuse you of not offering extra help, you can document the 4 offers that their child didn’t take advantage of.
- Don’t take it personally. It’s not personal, even though, I know, it feel personal. Parents want the best for their child, and sometimes we don’t agree on what “the best” is. It’s not your fault. Unless it is your fault, in which case you’d better fix it.