Giving Advice to Parents

When offering advice, remember that you are a science teacher or a social studies teacher, etc., and not a family counselor, psychiatrist or marriage counselor. A true professional knows the limits of his expertise. You are an educational specialist, and it is entirely appropriate for you to offer advice on home study or doing research work. If you get too far afield, though, you’ll run the risk of offending the parent’s intelligence. Don’t offer advice on raising a teenager unless you have done it yourself, and then tell the parent you are talking from personal experience. If you absolutely must, you ought to begin your comments with, “Well, I am a teacher, not a counselor, but I wonder if…”

On the other hand, don’t doubt yourself or be defensive about your expertise. Parents will often suggest ways you might run your class. Of course, if it is offered as friendly advice or even constructive criticism, accept it graciously. However, your policies are based on careful and thoughtful planning rooted in sound educational practices. They have been established for the good of all students within the guidelines of your school’s goals and learning objectives. If a parent tries to force you to make changes against your better judgment, you have every right to remind him that you are the educational authority and that you will not subordinate the good of the class to the wishes of a single student or parent.

When parents ask what they can do to help, give concrete advice. Simply telling them to help with studying isn’t enough. You might suggest that mom give her son a vocabulary test every evening. Or, she could have him discuss with her what he learned in your class that day. Then the student could write a summary for your perusal the next day. If your students keep a notebook, they should take it home daily for the parents to see.

At the end of the conference, the parent will almost always say something like, “Please call me if there are any problems or if you have any concerns.” As innocent as this sounds, it may get you in trouble. Suppose something does happen, but you feel it isn’t worth a call. Or, what if you do call but can’t reach anyone. If you call five parents, you’ll only reach two or three. Or what if you just forget. After all, you have 150 students. Then, too, maybe something happened that you were unaware of. If the parent later believes you should have called but didn’t, you’ll be in an awkward position. It’s better to respond with,

“Thank you, Mrs. Wilson, but would you do me a favor? Please. Would you call me every week or so? I’ll be in class, of course, but I’ll certainly get back to you as soon as I can.”

This way, the burden is on the parent, who has only one child to be concerned with. You can still call them if the occasion arises.

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