Teacher Tip #6: Parent Teacher Relations: Why Dealing with Difficult Parents Doesn’t Have To Be Scary!
“Where is his coat?!!!”
Twenty-five wide eyed students were looking at the parent who had just dramatically entered my classroom, interrupted my class, and scared everyone (including me) inquiring about the whereabouts of her son’s jacket. My students quickly shifted their gaze towards me with hints of curiosity--wondering as to how I would handle this situation. At the conclusion of the incident, all had been rectified as the parent had the wrong teacher and the coat, it was determined, was at home. While this was an extreme case, dealing with a difficult parent at any level can be an uncomfortable experience. Like students, parents have many personalities and come from a variety of backgrounds meaning that at some point in a teacher’s career, they will encounter a difficult parent. Yet how can a teacher navigate through a conversation with a tough parent while maintaining a positive relationship?
Surviving a meeting with a difficult parent is possible! First, a teacher must acknowledge that there are many different scenarios they can experience which can include but are not limited to parents who are; highly emotionally charged and come to the school unannounced, in denial about their child’s behaviors or academic challenges, disrespectful towards authority figures, negligent, or overinvolved. Second, once a teacher can identify the scenario, they can offer a “first response” which is either de-escalation or empathy (or both). Offer a parent to sit down at your level and acknowledge their feelings by saying “You seem upset” or “You seem worried about Johnny”. Validating a parent’s feelings will let them feel like you are on their side even if you disagree with their opinion or behavior. Third, once you offer a “first response”, let them talk without interruption unless they are making threats or speaking inappropriately. Letting a parent talk indicates that you are listening to their concern. Fourth and finally, once the parent is finished, offer an apology (if needed) and address their concerns using “I” statements which prevent the assumption of blame. Acknowledge that you both want the situation to be rectified and offer possible solutions. If the parent’s behavior remains a concern, seeking the help of another teacher or administrator is acceptable.
In my experience, most of the time, these strategies have proven effective. One positive effect of establishing good relationships with difficult parents is that a teacher can earn the respect of their administrator. Generally, an administrator likes when a teacher can establish rapport with parents because it shows that they are a team player and can be trusted with larger responsibilities. It also relieves the principal of some of the burden because they may have to deal with other school wide concerns during their day. A second positive effect is that even tough parents can build up the reputation of a teacher. Parents are usually a great resource and ally to have in the classroom, so keeping close and positive ties to even difficult ones can be beneficial because they will generate discussion outside of school about their child’s education. Remaining cool, calm, collected, and fair in difficult times will earn not just the respect of one parent but of an entire school community.
Three years after the coat incident, I was the teacher of the son with the lost coat. Because I was able to tactfully deal with his mother previously, I had no issues with the student in class (though he had a reputation for poor behavior with even more seasoned teachers) nor did I have any negative interactions with his mother. She even considered me one of the few teachers on staff that she could trust. A little can go a very long way.
I am an education coach and consultant as well as an executive functioning coach for children struggling with ADD/ADHD. You can also check out this blog at aquinaseducationcoaching.wordpress.com and