All teachers have been there at some point: A parent calls to scream at you over her son’s C grade on an essay, demanding that you give him a higher grade so that it does not ruin his GPA for college admissions, or a parent stops by after school, just as you are packing up to leave, to complain about the textbook selection. You receive an irate email during lunch from a father, claiming that his son is not being stimulated enough in your class, and you need to provide better enrichment programs for gifted students.
They are called “helicopter parents,” involved in every aspect of their children’s lives. You will encounter them throughout your teaching career, and the numbers of helicopter parents have increased over the last few years. According to Scholastic, this behavior has been fueled by a faltering economy and at least 50 percent of parents being concerned that the future of their children will be bleaker than the present. While some parents can be aggressive and even intimidating, as a teacher, you do not want to respond negatively and put an even greater strain on your relationship with family members. There are ways to ease the tension and keep the student central. Here are six tips:
1. Let the parent be the expert.
Remember, no one knows a child better than his or her parents, and often times, parents can be your best allies when working with students. When you are having difficulty getting a student motivated to finish classwork or homework, treat the parents as consultants. Request information on your students, including strengths, interests and strategies that have worked in the past. By showing this type of interest, you are telling the parents that you value their opinions and trust their judgment.
2. Establish good communication.
It is time to put all of that technology to good use. Send a regular newsletter via email or create a class website for parents that details class events and curriculum. Give your contact information to parents early on, clarifying the best times and ways to get in touch with you. Make weekly phone calls to discuss both student concerns and achievements. The better the communication, the more trust you establish with parents. Remember: There is nothing more disparaging for a parent than to find out that a child has failed a class while looking at her report card.
3. Set up boundaries.
While you want to be seen as friendly and open, you do not want to be perceived as a pushover. Scholastic recommends that you communicate your grading system and classroom rules at the beginning of the year, ensuring that parents receive them. That way, when a parent demands that you change an essay grade, you can reference your rubric and policies. The same goes for your communication preferences: It is a major distraction to have someone call in the middle of your lecture, so make your calling hours abundantly clear.
4. Give parents a role or outlet.
Provide parents with “a positive outlet for their Type A traits.” Help parents put that energy to good use! Find out their various areas of expertise and how the school can benefit from them. Enlist parents to run classroom centers on specific days, advise student clubs or facilitate study groups (remain within the boundaries of your school’s policies, of course). If a parent has a special talent or occupation, invite him or her in as a guest speaker!
5. Keep your cool.
When someone is yelling at you or accusing you of doing sub-par work, it is easy to react with anger. Always remember that parents loves their children and believes that they are advocating for the student’s best interests. Be empathetic and put yourself in the parent’s shoes. Be a good listener and breathe. Chances are, this is not about you or your teaching abilities. The worst thing that you can do is react poorly and put a permanent strain on the relationship.
6. Keep the student central.
You came into this profession to help students, so now is not the time to engage in power struggles or become distracted from your most important work. Do not let anyone cloud your judgment, and always strive to help your students become independent problem solvers. They will need these skills when they leave home!