Everyone remembers “that student” from their days on the playground: some kids are absolute joys in the classroom, while others can be a bit more challenging. As a new teacher, you will soon learn the same goes for their parents.
Some parents will respect your decisions, listen to your concerns, and collaborate with you for the benefit of their child. They may even bring in special snacks for you to hoard share with your class. Then there’s the other side of the spectrum...parents who blame you for their child’s bad grade, think a punishment is unfair, or are just not on the same page as you and your teaching philosophy.
Disputes between teachers and parents are inevitable, and some of your parent-teacher relationships will be tough. But there are a few things to keep in mind when things start to go sour:
Don’t take it personally
If you are on the receiving end of a parental rant, try to remember that it’s most likely not meant as a personal attack. Perhaps they are having a bad day, or maybe they just don’t have a filter. Whatever the reason, stay calm, keep an open mind, and try not to react right away. Having a thick skin is especially helpful as a teacher, but if your feelings are easily hurt, keeping your emotions in check makes it easier to proceed with confidence.
Schedule an appointment
If you are caught off guard by a conflict with a parent, see if you can set up a time to meet with them one-on-one. Arranging a meeting to discuss a difficult topic will allow both of you to cool off and let you investigate the issue further. What happened, how did you handle it, and why do you stand by your decision? Also, is there anything you could have done differently? Preparing your thoughts and having examples to support your case is preferable to improvising in the heat of the moment. In addition, most educators recommend leaving a paper trail by documenting everything: the supposed incident, your in-person encounters, all electronic communication, and anything else that could come into question if a situation can’t be resolved between teacher and parent.
Listen to their concerns
When everyone thinks they are in the right, sometimes it’s just best to just sit back and listen to what a parent has to say. If they have a problem, ask them what they’d like to discuss, let them have the floor, and don’t interrupt (except for the occasional “I understand” or other acknowledgment). You’ll have a chance to answer their questions and share your points when they’re finished. If you are the one who has to bring up an issue and a confrontation ensues, again, try to understand how they feel and where they’re coming from, even if they seem unreasonable.
Work toward a resolution
You may not appreciate an angry or unpleasant parent, but, as a new teacher, you do have one thing in common: the student. You both care and want what’s best for them, so it’s important to work together instead of against each other in order for the child to succeed. Rational discussions can lead to peaceful solutions, and they may even help you identify areas you could improve upon as you manage your classroom and communicate with other parents—just consider it constructive criticism.
Bring in a third party
If your one-on-one meeting(s) with the parent don’t seem to be getting anywhere, you can look for a mediator amongst the counseling or administrative staff at your school. (You might even find they have experience in parent-teacher mediation.) This isn’t about ganging up on the parent; it’s about looking for a solution that works best for everyone involved, the student above all. Talk to your mediator beforehand, set up ground rules, and be respectful, patient, open, and communicative as always.
Kill them with kindness
As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. If you’re getting an earful, just slap on a smile, remember this advice, and look forward to working with a new group of parents next year.