I realize I have to navigate a fine line with this post, but if Periscope has taught me anything, it’s that teachers appreciate realness. Realness helps people identify and leads to real solutions. So let’s just get real…parents be cray!
I came from a school where parents were either highly involved or not involved at all until they thought their child was wronged…then they were. No fun.
My first year and a half of teaching, I was scared of parents. I didn’t want to talk to them, I didn’t like that they had so much power (which I was giving them), and I didn’t get why they had to be so cray all the time.
Then, I had my daughter.
My view of parents changed drastically and I soon as I had to give her over to a babysitter, I realized… I be cray too! I got it.
She is MY child and MY everything. I recognize that to you, she is just another child in your care. I need to be her advocate and I’m the person in her life forever. I’m the one who’s been praying for her since before she was born, planning for her future, and investing all I have in her safety and quality of life. Me. Not you. You don’t know her or her needs like I do. So just listen to what I have to say and do things they way I want them done…okay?!?
…Whoa! See? That was a whole lot of cray.
But, just because I understand it, doesn’t mean I like being on the receiving end of it as a teacher. Here are some tips and revelations that have helped me become a firm force in my partnerships with parents while still building relationships, collaborating, and covering my backside!
(Feel free to jam while you read.)
Parents, like everyone else on the face of the Earth, don’t know your job. Unless they are teachers themselves or know a teacher, they don’t get what we do. They don’t understand how much time it takes to do everything involved with teaching our class and everything involved with the paperwork of teaching, testing, scoring, etc.
Some parents might continually “ask” you to do things. They might expect you to do these things, but these things might not actually be a part of your job. For example, staying late or coming in early to tutor is not a part of my contract. I might do it, if I have the time and I enjoy both the student and the parent, but I’m not required. You need to know what the school and county requires you to do, so that you know when you are well within your rights to say no (more on that to come).
Another thing I’ve learned over the years is that nothing is above being questioned. Here are some things to be able to speak to on the fly:
-Why you are a stickler on certain behaviors: Reference county, school, and classroom rules and the importance of those rules
-Why you teach the way you do: Reference research and best practices, as well as school expectations/norms
-Why is your homework is the way it is: Reference how your students learn best and how your HW is incorporated (ex. nightly homework due every day because daily spiral review is important)
Everything else I do is covered by one of my two goals (that are posted in my room) which are to:
1. Create students who are kind, caring, respectful, problem-solvers (basically create better human-beings)
2. Create students who have mastery of the curriculum
If a parent questions a decision, I can usually point to one of these two goals. I respect their position to advocate for and protect their child, but it is my position to advocate for and protect all of the students in my class. I have to think of the whole, not just an individual and these goals help me keep perspective.
This one can be hard, especially for new teachers. It is just flat out awkward to tell a parent to their face what their child is doing wrong. It is so much easier to sugar-coat things and tell a parent that their child “occasionally needs reminders to stay on task” vs. “constantly needs redirection (2-3 times in a 5 minute period) and lacks the ability to maintain focus during independent work time”. But, with the first one, parents hear that their child is sometimes having problems and it is easy for them to say, “He is only 8 and he is a boy”. With the truth (the second phrase) that includes a quantitative measure, parents are given power. They may not like to hear it and they may not like you for saying it, but they are given the opportunity to step in, intervene, and look for outside help if needed.
Sugar-coating only makes things easy for you in the moment, not the long-run. This was my issue my first year teaching. I sugar-coated the problem during a parent conference and a week later when the student went off the chain for real, I was in a predicament. I had documentation for my principal to suspend the child because she had been acting up in class frequently. But, I sugar-coated with the parents so they had ammunition to say that it was unfair that their child was getting suspended because if they had known how bad it was they could have prevented it. I doubt they could have, but they were right. They deserved the opportunity to know the truth about their child, even if they didn’t want to hear it.
As teachers, we know this is a golden rule for students: no empty threats, no empty promises. It is a way to lose respect and crumble relationships quickly. The same goes for parents. If you told parents at back to school night that students would be allowed to retest unit tests, then you have to let them do it even if it was open-notes to begin with and you are already behind in pacing.
If you told parents that students would receive a referral with the next poor behavior choice, then do it. They might be happy if you were wishy-washy on this one, but it will come back to bite you when you are sticking to something they don’t like. They will most likely say, “But last time you said you were going to give a referral and you didn’t, that’s not fair”. Yes, it happens. Favors can bite you later.
Pick your battles. You don’t need to win everything. You have to compromise for the sake of the relationship sometimes. As problems or requests arise, the first thing you need to do is decide if it is worth the fight, sometimes it’s better for everyone to just let it go.
Sometimes you just can’t give in. Not because you don’t want to or because they made you mad, but because it’s just not best. You are the advocate for your classroom and you are responsible for each student’s learning. Just because the parent insists that you make a student’s desk an “island” and deny them recess and center activities because of poor grades doesn’t mean you do it. It’s not best practice. I appreciate the support of academics, but I’m not doing that. Period.
One time a parent wanted me to call everyday after school to talk about their child’s behavior, in addition to the daily behavior chart I was sending home. Ummm…no. Ain’t nobody got time for that. I have to get my room together, get ready for tomorrow, and pick up my own child from the baby-sitter by a certain time. I realize they felt like this was the best thing for their child, but it was outside of my contract time (hence: Know Your Job) and it was not something I had the time for, which leads us to the next point…
This one can be hard, but it is so worth it. Say no when you need to. You need to respect your time and your family.
“Can I volunteer in your room even though I am a nosy parent looking for gossip?” No.
“Can I chaperone the field trip even though chances are I will “misplace” at least one child in DC?” No.
“Can you come in before your contract time or stay after to tutor my child for free?” No.
No, I can’t. #sorrynotsorry
Now, this isn’t always the case. As teachers, it is our nature to do things that we don’t have to do just because we love teaching and we love our students. I mean, my county pays me and then I turn around and blow it all on my classroom.
Just know that it is okay to say no, you are not a bad person, the choice is yours.
This is not a new tip. Document EVERYTHING: Conversations, phones calls, notes sent to school, notes sent home, grades, informal assessments, behavior, EVERYTHING. For example: -We have an online gradebook at my school, but I still keep a paper one. It has saved me a couple times. -Be super specific in your report card comments. Report cards can be subpoenaed by court so keep that in mind. Not necessarily only if a parent is suing you, but also if their is a custody hearing and one parent needs to prove that something from home is affecting a child’s performance in school. It’s happened. -Print your emails! Don’t trust your email system, if we have learned anything recently it’s that a hack can happen…or you could just delete an email when trying to save it. I still have a file an inch wide of emails from one parent 3 years ago. I am definitely keeping those bad boys!
The best way to maintain a good relationship with parents is to keep them in the know. Here’s some ideas: -Send home newsletters with reminders and information -Set up a class webpage with information they can easily access -Use Remind to send text alerts -Set up a class instagram to share pictures throughout the day (I am going to try this for the first time. I am moving to a school with low involvement so I’m hoping that taking to social media will help.) -Create a private class facebook page
*TIP* If you plan on using any sort of social media for your class, get permission! Get permission from your school admin and from the parents. Even if your school or county sends home a photo release form, you should create your own. Write a quick letter explaining the purpose and benefit of using that social media platform and have parents sign that it is okay for you to post pictures of their child and their child’s first name to a private account.
…to an extent. I have found parents can relate to you better when they know more about you. When my parents find out that I have a toddler, they can relate. Most of them have younger children as well or can remember a few years back when their children were that age. I always include a picture of my family in my welcome back letter that I send before Meet the Teacher Day. What I’ve noticed is that at least half of my parents use my toddler or my dog (I have a boxer) as a springboard to spark a conversation with me. They like to relate. Find something you can use to relate to your parents; maybe it’s a sports team, a college, or a hobby.
Before I go, I just want to note that this post is referring to only some parents. Most parents we get are amazing and understanding and respect our time. This is not for them. This post is for the ones that give you a run for your money. I had a student teacher this year and I unofficially mentored a new teacher at my school. It was infuriating to watch parents run over them while they did nothing to stand up for themselves.
I hope to empower new teachers to know that their classroom is theirs. So- set goals, protect your students, and protect yourself.