You are about to meet with a parent whom you believe will be out of control. You may even fear what the parent will do. What are you going to do? Teachers face this situation every day. Unfortunately, there is very little training or guidance offered to teachers in this area. So what do you do?
The most important thing you can do when dealing with an angry parent is to stay cool when things get hot. When talking to parents, stay calm, speak slowly, and do not become defensive or angry. If the parent is angry, just listen and use what is known as “the broken record.” (This is a method used by teachers whereby they simply repeat what they have already said.) State the problem, then the consequence. For example, if the student is missing classes, state “(problem) If Mary does not come to school, (consequence) she will fail. Or, “(problem) if Johnny continues to act the way he is doing, (consequence) he will be Chapter 37ed (removed from class)”.
Convey to the parent(s) that both you and the parents want the same thing–how to best help the child. Listen to everything the parents are saying. Avoid overwhelming them with irrelevant materials or by using jargon. Try not to overwhelm them with the presence of other school personnel unless they are needed. Avoid physical barriers. Do not sit behind a desk.
Address the parent(s) by name (the right name) and maintain eye contact. Remember to state the problem in specific terms, ask for their help, and let them know the consequences. For example, “If Johnny does not do his homework, he will fail. He and I need your help to ensure that this does not happen.”
Offer the parents ideas on how they might help. Summarize the conversation at the end and reiterate what you and the parent have agreed to do. If possible, end the conversation on a positive note. Follow up the conversation with a note or email.
What do you do if the conference becomes hostile?
- If threatened, ask for an end to the meeting. If the principal is not present, ask that the meeting be moved to his or her office. Remember, you can always ask for a break if one is needed; you might even need to go to the restroom.
- Remember: stay calm, speak slowly, keep it short, and do not become defensive or angry.
- If the parent makes complaints, ask him/her to write them down. State that you will respond in writing.
- Do not get up and walk out of the conference unless you have been given permission by the principal. In an Arlington ISD decision, a teacher felt that a conference with a parent had turned negative. She asked to leave the conference and to return when she had her representative with her. Her request was denied. She chose to leave, anyway. As a result, she was reprimanded by the Arlington ISD. The Commissioner of Education upheld this reprimand.
- If the parent is making charges against you, ask that the conference be re-scheduled to a time when you can have your association representative or attorney present. If this is denied to you, sit there and continue with the broken record: “I believe that we have gone past how we can help your child and that you are making charges against me. Therefore, I am asking that we reschedule this meeting until a time when I can have my representative present. In addition, I am asking that you put your complaints against me in writing so that I may respond in writing.”
10 Things To Do If Things Get Rough
- Watch what you say—in fact, talk very little. But be friendly and open in your actions.
- Use the “broken record” technique. State the problem and the consequence.
- Ask the parent to write down complaints so that you can offer a written response.
- Stay cool. Remember–you are the professional.
- Don’t leave unless you have been given permission by the administration.
- If you need to leave to collect your thoughts, ask for a recess or a bathroom break.
- If a hostile conference takes place in a hallway or your room, walk to the office and don’t stop except to ask another teacher to cover your class.
- Don’t look back and don’t argue all the way there.
- Ask for guidance from administration (individually or in a faculty meeting) relating to how they want you to handle hostile parents.
- Call your association if you need more guidance.
What rights do parents have to information regarding my class?
Parents are by law entitled to request a change in their child’s class or teacher. The law does not say whether a request for a different class or teacher must be granted. However, unless there is a good reason to deny the request, it will usually be granted by the administration.
Parents are also entitled to all written records concerning their child, including attendance records, test scores, grades, disciplinary records, and teacher and counselor evaluations of the student. Therefore, it is important that teachers be careful about any comment written regarding a student. This includes notes to the administration, counselors, and others. Teachers should be careful with any opinions they express about a student, especially those that are placed in writing. This includes emails to anyone from a district email or computer. It might even include your home computer if the records are subpoenaed.
Parents are also entitled to a REVIEW (not a copy) of all teaching materials, including textbooks and other teaching aids. In addition, parents can review each test after it is administered to the child. The law goes on to say that the district must make these items available. The law does give the district the right to specify reasonable hours of review.
Even though this law requires teachers to release information to the parents of a student, other laws require that teachers be careful not to release it to someone who is not the parent or the custodial parent. Parents do not have the right to see the tests or grades of other students. It is also important that teachers be careful not to discuss a student’s records with anyone who does not have “a REAL need to know.” This would include administrators and others who work for the educational institution, as they also work with that child. This does not mean that that such records should be given to those outside the system, including parent chaperones and others. Before any information is given, please be sure to ask that the request for information be placed in writing and make sure that the request is approved by the administration before the information is provided to ANYONE outside the educational institution.