- Seven Reforms Needed in Education - January 10, 2017
- Stop Censoring Our Classrooms - March 7, 2016
- Preparing for Parent-Teacher Conferences - October 16, 2015
- My Experience with TNCore - the Tennessee State Standards - September 15, 2015
- Tips for Choosing a Novel to Study - June 9, 2015
- Choosing the Right High School Reading Intervention Program - April 30, 2015
- Four Things Teachers Should Try Before Removing a Student - April 6, 2015
- Dear 'Bad Students': Prove Us Wrong - March 12, 2015
- Improving Education: Response to Joel Klein - February 26, 2015
- Writing Hacks for Grades 9-12 - February 12, 2015
A hazard of our profession is dealing with difficult parents or guardians from time to time. (For the sake of simplicity, allow “parents” to refer to whoever has legal guardianship throughout the remainder of this article.) Sometimes difficult parents are attached to difficult students; sometimes difficult parents are attached to wonderful students. Imagine the following scenarios:
A particular student in your class struggles with grades, behavior, or both. Naturally, you reach out to the parents to alert them, get insight, and develop a plan. The parents, however, have no interest in dealing with the problem and even seem annoyed at you for bothering them at home or work. Worse, the parents may grow hostile and blame you and you alone for their child’s problems. “You’re just picking on my kid!” Obviously, you will get nowhere in this current state.
A particular student in your class is the model student, or at least the student seems to think so. Despite best efforts, the student receives a less than ideal grade. (Note: For some children, anything less than 100% is less than ideal). The student may even approach you for an explanation. Even after giving the student a thorough explanation, you still receive a phone call or email from his or her parents expressing their concern about the grade. You offer them the same explanation you gave the student, but the parents persist. They call for a meeting in which you are certain they demand you change the grade. Your alarm bells are ringing, and you know you are in for a fight, even though you are only doing your job. How should you proceed?
From apathetic to hovering, difficult parents come in all shapes and sizes. Here are a few tips to help you deal with our partners in education who sometimes turn on us and treat us like the enemy.
Tip #1 Remain Consistent
Before the next (or first) difficult parent comes your way, you should take steps to ensure your consistency. Create, type, and distribute to the parents your discipline and grading policies at the beginning of the year. You are to be transparent about your classroom expectations. Apply your policies accordingly. This includes following rules and consequences guidelines as well as grading every student on the same scale. Resist the temptation to “throw the book” at a student who gets under your skin without seriously breaking the rules while allowing a student you favor push the envelope further than everyone else. Furthermore, avoid giving a student a higher or lower grade than what is deserved. We cannot be perfect, but we must strive for consistency and fairness. (Fairness includes setting up a different behavior plan or grade modification for certain students as necessary, mind you.) The more consistent you appear to your pupils, the less ammo difficult parents have to use against you.
Tip #2 Document and Contact
Again, you should implement this tip before you even know if you will encounter a difficult parent or not. Document everything. Everything means behavior records, grade logs, copies of assignments if necessary, and communication with the parents.
You can create or search for a behavior record template. Some schools provide teachers with their own version. You can even jot down notes in a notebook. Whatever the method, make sure you document, in as objective language as possible, the behavior and date and time of its occurrence, your reaction, and the student’s response. Behavior you should document is anything concerning or deviant. Objective notes are concrete, specific, and without bias. (e.g. It is less objective to write, “Student was being a jerk again!” as opposed to, “Student walked in late for the second time this week. When asked for a note and/or a reason for tardiness, student responded by scoffing and telling me it was ‘none of [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][my] business!’”)
Later, these behavior records will assist you when speaking to the parents, as you will have no trouble recalling the events. If it gets to the point that you have to refer a student to the office, the behavior records also serve as evidence as what you have tried, on your own, to address the issue yourself. (Free hint: Administrators are more likely to assist you with classroom management if you prove that you attempted to handle it yourself. If a student commits a major infraction, though, such as punching another student, you obviously should contact administration and/or a school resources officer immediately.)
Grade Logs and Assignments
Some teachers keep assignments, but most of us return them. In that instance teachers should consider making copies of papers that earned failing grades to keep in private records. (Should a student consider anything less than an A “failing,” I would keep a copy of those assignments for that particular student.) If you encounter students and/or parents who like to discuss the nuances of each and every grade, you should always copy those assignments before handing them back. You should have copies of your rubrics and copies of anonymous sample papers, as well. If a parent cannot understand why her child prodigy did not receive a 100% on an assignment, you will be better armed to answer the question providing you have the following:
- A copy of your grading policy: If you have sent a copy home at the beginning of the year (see tip #1), politely remind the parent of what it says. Chances are, the parent has forgotten it. Do not count on the grading policy alone to halt the parent’s inquiries, though.
- A copy of the child’s assignment: If a student “loses” the assignment or makes changes to it after the fact, you will have a back-up. As far as the parent is concerned, you keep copies of writing assignments to chart growth of each student.
- A rubric: Placing the child’s assignment side-by-side with a rubric (or any grading list) will help you to confidently explain why an exceptional student’s paper did not meet your exceptional standards. (The more consistent you are in applying said rubric to every child’s paper, the more credibility you will have. Students who need grade modifications are the exception and are not the business of any other pupil or parent.)
- Samples: In case the rubric does not appease the parent, you can then place the student’s paper side-by-side to another. (I cannot emphasize enough here to make sure those student samples remain anonymous – they should not have names on them. If possible, try to use samples from another class.) At bare minimum, include a sample that did earn an A (or any grade higher than the student’s). The sample must contain visible differences, making it easier to explain why one student’s paper scored less than another’s.
- Sympathy: Remind yourself that at least this child’s parents care enough to seek you out about the student’s grade. Emphasize what the student does well and clarify that a less-than-perfect grade gives the student an opportunity to grow and learn. When the student does reach college, he may thank you later for amply preparing him.
When a student’s behavior and/or grade becomes serious enough for you to contact a parent, you should prepare. Gather the necessary documents (include positive notes, too). Make a script. Fellow writer Lori H. Rice wrote a useful article on how to create a script entitled "Scripting a Parent Phone Call - A Skill All Teachers Need."
As soon as you have completed the initial contact, make a record of how the conversation went, especially if the parent became hostile. Should a parent become hostile, disengage from the conversation if immediately and report it to your administrator. Stand your ground; you have the same rights as everyone else in that there is no need for you to tolerate abuse.
Tip #4 Face-to-Face Meeting
At some point, you might find yourself in a meeting with a difficult parent. Should you have followed the preceding tips, you should be adequately prepared. No matter the circumstances, though, never meet a difficult parent alone! (Parent-teacher night is the exception.) Here are my guidelines for whom to involve in a parent conference:
- Situation: Parents seem apathetic about student’s problems and had to be “persuaded” to come to a meeting. Ideally, an administrator would already be involved and would be present at this point. All teachers experiencing difficulty with the student should be present or at least should submit documentation to the person facilitating the meeting.
- Situation: Parents insist that you are targeting their child. In addition to bringing documentation that exhibits your consistency and fairness, ask another teacher who has experienced difficulties with the student AND an administrator to attend. Be prepared to explain your policies and discipline procedures. If you feel you have acted in good faith, calmly explain to the parents that their child is not being unfairly targeted and that you simply want to find a resolution. Certain behaviors are unacceptable, though, and you must address them appropriately.
- Situation: Parents might insist that a student’s grade should be changed. Before you agree to a meeting, see your administrator. Your administrator may allow you to refuse a meeting if a parent seems unreasonable. Should that not be an option, you should still rally an administrator for support. Take your documentation (copies of student’s assignments, grading policy, and rubrics) to the principal so that you can prove your grading is fair. At this point, the principal will agree with you and might even accompany you to the meeting, or the principal will suggest a compromise to present to the parents. If and when the meeting takes place, arm yourself with the proper documentation. (Note: Depending on your teaching assignment, you may want to avoid involving administration if you can help it. I recommend it, however, because some parents will try to go to the next-in-command if they cannot bully you into changing a grade. I consider involving the administrator a preemptive strike, plus it lets you know how much support you will receive.)
- Situation: Parents are hostile. At the bare minimum, have an administrator present. If your school has an officer, consider requesting his or her presence. Consider refusing the meeting if you feel threatened. If you feel you are in danger and that adequate steps are not being taken to protect you, do not attend this meeting! Put it in writing and submit it to administration.
Tip #5 When All Else Fails
At this point, you have met with the difficult parents and made no progress. Or, you have avoided meeting altogether, especially if the parents are threatening. When all else fails, request that either your guidance department or administration deal with the difficult parents. Hopefully, your administration is willing to take over when you are not making headway with difficult parents. Furthermore, if you feel that a student is making no progress in your classroom despite your best efforts, begin referring that student to the principal’s office with copies of documentation detailing steps you have already taken.
Should administration refuse to deal with the difficult parents themselves, consider halting communications with a parent yourself. When the parent decides to contact your principal to complain about your lack of response, you can bring in copies of the communication you have had thus far. You may have to reiterate, once again, that nothing constructive has come about and you feel like further communication without assistance from administration is detrimental and distracting. Finally, lodge a complaint with the police if a difficult parent has crossed the line and threatened your well-being.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]