First up, I will state that a loving parent who respects your role in their child's life is a treasured partner for a teacher to have. But sometimes we must partner with individuals who are less helper, more horror story. Whether the problem is absent or uninvolved parents, or parents with too much input, we still are charged with doing what is best for our students, and that includes establishing a parent-teacher relationship. Here are some easy ways to deal with five common parent personalities that have helped me survive (so far!).
Helicopter parents are those hovering types that are just waiting for the right time to swoop in and rescue their precious baby from your clutches. The helicopter parent keeps close tabs on the class, sometimes being a little too close for comfort.
The Fix: First, set ground rules early and repeat them often. As great as having an open door policy sounds, sometimes you do need to close that door. Set a schedule for parent helpers. Having parents come near the end of the day ensures that they cannot hang around after their task is completed, and scheduling them for the end of the week means a job can’t drag out onto subsequent days. Encourage small chores and independence in the classroom and at home. Above all, don’t cut the parent out of the loop. Most helicopter parents feel like they need to protect their child or that you won’t keep them informed, so you have to prove otherwise.
The Know-It-All parent is the one correcting you at every turn. They question the curriculum, question the objectives, tell you how they do it at home, and basically tell you you’re wrong. This parent is also likely to back their child’s side of things because, clearly, you don’t know what you are talking about.
The Fix: Put your credentials out there. If you participate in professional development, tell your parents what you attended and why. If you have advanced degrees, make it known. You aren’t bragging; you are asserting yourself as an authority in your field. Teachers are trained professionals, so don’t let someone treat you as anything less. You will never win an argument with this parent, so don’t even try. Lay out information in a very straightforward and professional manner. Back up your statements with research-based best practices. Get the student to see how wonderful and knowledgeable you are, so they go home with tales of their super-genius teacher. When all else fails? Smile — don’t concede — but never get into an argument. You simply just won’t win.
The best friend is a parent more interested in being a pal to their child than a mentor. This parent wants their child happy, no matter what behavior or academic problems might happen as a result.
The Fix: First, make school a fun place for exploratory learning. A student used to a friend rather than a parent will respond better to driving their own learning. All students respond to a festive atmosphere like, for instance, fun experiments on Friday afternoons. For the best pal parent, this type of incentive helps them see the value in their child being in school and they are less likely to declare a "holiday." When talking to this parent, remember that they care about their child’s happiness and social calendar more than the academics. Talk about the child’s emotions before skills, and opportunities rather than consequences.
The demander takes your overloaded schedule to new heights. They want a copy of your objectives in writing. They want the entire unit’s homework ahead of time. They want you to pick out the book for their child. They want you to be available 24-7 no matter what. The demander can also intimidate, making you feel they will go above your head with half-truths if you don’t bow to their will.
The Fix: Provide information overload for all your parents. Most demanders, as well as other parents, can be appeased when information is plentiful. You don’t have to give a detailed schedule of your day or a copy of your lesson plans, but you can keep an online calendar that you update as things change. You can print newsletters and offer them online or through email. Be proactive and ask to meet with your parents in the first quarter of school, laying out your agenda before the demander has a chance to propose one.
Also, make a list of non-negotiables. For example, you can be available by email, but not by phone at home. You will not answer calls after a certain time, but you will have an email blast each Thursday. You don’t have to share these with parents, but knowing where you draw the line ahead of time can help keep the demander from steamrolling over you.
The absent parent is just not there. It doesn’t really matter if the parent is working seven jobs, has other commitments, or simply is not invested in their child's education the way we would like them to be. The absent parent is unlikely to send back papers, will not sign daily conduct sheets, and will not meet for conferences.
The Fix: Appeal to the child, especially older children, and put the responsibility on them. I never accept, “Mom wouldn’t sign . . . ” I always tell the child to go to the parent with pen in hand. Offer small incentives for returned forms. Most students will pester their parent for a signature if they get something out of it too. Be flexible about meeting times, offering a variety of options. Make the classroom a welcoming place and let the parent know you aren’t placing blame on them, so they will want to visit. If the child loves you, they will get their parent to support you too.
At the end of the day, you are there for the child. No excuses can be made about home life, because you meet the child where they are and get them where they need to be. The child with no home help deserves your best, just like any other kid. Manage what you can in the classroom, show students the love you want for your own child, and remember why you are there. (Hint: it isn’t for the parents!)
Have a parent problem story? Share, vent, and leave ideas on how to deal.
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