This post is a touchy subject for most teachers.
Teachers seem to have a love-hate relationship with a lot of the parents. And the same can be said to be true for parents about teachers. I need to admit that 95 percent of the parents I have come in contact with get it. The goals they have for me as a teacher are realistic. I may not completely agree with them but they are within the realms of reason. They respect the job I do and see the partnership between teacher, parents and student a valuable one.
The remaining five percent fall into three categories:
- The 'burnt' parent--this is a parent whose had a 'bad experience' in the system and it has fouled them (hopefully its temporarily) on all teachers. My strategy with a burnt parent is to help them see the reasons behind a grade, decision, consequence...they may still be protective, but they tend to see the logic. While I don't always like getting bulldogged by a parent, they get to ask questions and be frustrated with what, from the outside, can look foreign and rigged in the teacher's favor.
- The 'good intenitions' parent--this parent wants to do what is best and thinks what they are doing is best for their child. Unfortunately, they just don't grasp that what they are doing is harmful. This parent is a challenge for a teacher because they make take comments as an indictment of their parenting skills. One of the things I wish schools could do for parents of adolescents is offer a crash course on what to expect for first time parents. The changes kids exhibit during this time are confounding to the best of parents--we ought to talk about it and strategies which might help. Teachers are invaluable resources for this; I wish we used them more.
- 'That' parent--If teachers are honest, this is an extremely rare parent. They want what they want. They know and don't really care. They are going to do whatever they need to do to get their way. Teachers are distractions. In all honesty I can count these parents on one hand over in my 25+ years working with kids. They were mercilessly cruel to teachers and not interested in a partnership because it really wasn't about the student--it was about them. What I learned to do was to just survive. Be polite and cordial. Be honest and professional. Develop a thick skin (easier said than done) and focus on the student as best you can. One of the students of a 'that' parent was so mortified at their parent that they did everything they could to avoid an issue raising to a parental level. They become one of my best students after a mediocre start. That was all their doing--in spite of the parent.
As a parent, I want a thriving relationship with my kid's teachers. As a teacher, I get their child for one hour--they get them for 12 to 18 hours. Honestly, part of my focus should be on helping them be 'parent-educators'. Answer questions. Suggest books and websites. Serve as a resource in a world with conflicting messages on how to raise a child. This may sound like Pollyanna and I certainly have had days when I wanted to be anything but a resource to a parent. Disclaimer--I am a work in progress on these...aspire but don't imitate exactly.
Below are five thoughts I have on dealing with parents--there could be more and I would covet your comments below. BTW-this is not the place for Parent-Teacher Horror Show...yes, there are sucky parents and yes, there are teachers who stink up the place. They are the minority. Lets focus on the educator who wants do what is best for their young charges and parents who want the same.
- Talk about parenting in a positive manner in front of your class--Parenting is hard enough without a teacher taking pot shots at it. I refuse to let students talk ill of their parents in front of me. Period. I don't teach for a Disney sitcom where parents are inattentive, bordering on abandonment, and teachers either obtuse to the 'shenanigans around them or mean-spirited jerks. No parent, good, bad or 'that', deserves me deriding them.
- Breathe and smile boys, breathe and smile--Some of the best advice my wife has given me is to breathe and count to ten. I am a by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of guy--I lead with the emotions. Sometimes (read that as often) emotions can get the best of me. A look, a way something is said, a misspoken fact sends me down the rabbit trail with a parent. I would add to that gossip as well. Teachers are often their own worst enemies in this regard.
- Listen first, formulate responses after--I don't know about you, but I tend to hear and compose my response at the same time. I also get things wrong as often as right when I do that. My boss has a great talent for listening and then responding. I see the wheels turning and she takes a moment and then responds. I really appreciate that. If her response is not what I wanted to hear or something I disagree with, at least I know I was heard. My experience is that most people know they aren't going to get everything they want, but they want at least to be heard and not dismissed out of hand.
- Focus on the student, not the parent--I was in a meeting that was getting heated and a colleague said, "you know, I think we have lost focus on 'Johnny'." They were right. That should be our focus and that is, all I gonna say about that.
- Honesty means having to say you're sorry--I hate the apology that is couched in a way which its actually a non-admission: "I'm sorry you... blah blah blah." Sometimes we get it wrong, we don't have all the facts, we just miss the mark. We should be honest enough to admit it. I have actually had a teacher tell me not to admit a mistake because the parent would 'hold it against me' or it would undermine me to all the parents. That is 'cray cray' talk. If a parent uses the fact that I made a mistake against me, then so be it. Most parents understand that, like them, you are gonna make mistakes. The teachable moment is showing them and their child what to do when that happens.
This post is part of a set about why I teach...I can honestly say that there are parents for whom it is a joy to teach their kids. We laugh in team sometimes about asking some of our parents to have more kids--just so we can teach them. I can also honestly say that there have been times when a parent drove me to rethink a career as a teacher--luckily for me there was an encouraging word from a colleague, student or some other parent who reminded me the Eleanor Roosevelt quote about no one can make you feel inferior without your consent--another reason I teach.