Dealing with Difficult Parents: Tips for a Peaceful Resolution
We know you have fantasies about the perfect teaching experience. You envision eager and attentive students who are excited to learn. You picture extensive administrative support. You expect parents and guardians who are true teaching partners with you. The reality, however, can be far different than the fantasy, especially when it comes to parental support.
Dealing with difficult parents can be a part of every teaching experience and can be a stumbling block to providing the best educational experience for your students. If you start the year off on the right foot, providing information to parents about your classroom expectations for their children and how parents can support you, you can minimize the chances of having unhappy parents. Still, despite your best efforts, you may still encounter parents or guardians who present challenges to you. If that happens, check out these tips for handling some common conflicts that may arise.
A parent thinks you give too much homework
Even elementary school students are involved in after-school and evening activities, and some parents may feel it’s unfair to have children do homework after hours spent in school. You can handle this by explaining your rationale for homework. Is it a review of concepts for an upcoming test? Does it help enrich the lessons you’re teaching in class? If parents understand the “why” behind homework, they may be more likely to support your decision to assign it. Provide opportunities for parent support when it comes to supervising homework as well.
A parent complains to other parents
You may hear through the grapevine that a parent is unhappy about something happening in your classroom, even though he or she has not come directly to you. You can address this—and reduce the chances of the parent’s concerns permeating every classroom family—by keeping communication lines open. Let parents know the best way to get in touch with you. If you’re unable to answer phone calls during the school day, be sure to provide your email address or other ways for parents to reach you. Ensure parents that you’re open to their concerns and that you’re willing to hear them out. Sometimes, just knowing a teacher will listen is all a parent needs to feel supported in your classroom.
A parent contacts you too often
Open communication is important, but if you’re spending too much time responding to phone calls, emails or in-person visits from specific parents, you need a strategy to curb their enthusiasm. Reassure parents that you are available to hear their concerns or comments, but set clear boundaries. Maybe you’ll only return emails until a certain hour each evening, or you will only encourage in-person meetings after school. Once you’ve set these boundaries, be sure to stick to them. These tips were developed for setting boundaries with students, but they work for parents, too.
A parent is upset about a child’s grade
If a parent confronts you about a grade his child received, be sure to have your grade book and any rubrics available for the project. Stay calm and explain why you gave the grade you did. Listen to the parent’s concerns, and address specific issues. Work together to develop a plan to address the issue in the future. Perhaps the parent needs tips on how to help his child stay organized or could use additional resources for practicing concepts at home. Above all, emphasize that you and the parent are on the same team and both want the student to get the most out of school.
A parent wants you to make an exception for her child
The best parent-teacher relationships work when both sides support each other. But what if you have a parent who undermines you at home? They contact you and ask for an extension on a project or request that you overlook a missed homework assignment. Set a firm policy when it comes to homework and long-term projects and let parents and students know the consequences of missing or late work. Refer parents to your policy when they contact you about an extension and make exceptions only for illness or family emergencies. Remind parents why you have set these rules and that they are sending a message to their child that schoolwork isn’t a priority when they ask teachers to bend the rules.