Guilt and anger
Don’t do this
Of course, we all have the occasional unpleasant conference. It comes with the territory. When a parent is angry with you from the beginning, and you haven’t done anything to justify it, you can bet it is for one of two reasons. The most likely is that the child is doing poorly in your class and is trying to cushion the shock of a low grade by softening his parents with complaints about you. “My teacher is too hard, everybody flunks, he doesn’t explain things properly, none of it makes sense, his tests are unfair, he doesn’t like me.” The list is endless. Most parents will see through excuses, but there are always the few who won’t. They come storming into your room demanding satisfaction for the injustices suffered by their middle schooler.
The other reason is a sort of misplaced anger. As mentioned before, in our society, large numbers of parents simply don’t have the time to be with their kids or are unable to provide the home environment they know children need and deserve. Subconsciously, they know the child’s problems began in the home; but to avoid the feelings of guilt, they blame the teacher and the school.
Whatever the reason for the hostility, there is only one way to deal with it. You must be completely professional. Your position must always be to find a way to do what is right for the child. If academic performance or misbehavior is the problem, then you search, with the parent, for a way to correct it. Defensive ranting and raving is unprofessional and only prolongs the agony. The issue must constantly be the child’s welfare, and you must repeatedly bring the discussion back to that. If you are accused of not liking Marty, then simply say how sorry you are that he feels that way and ask what you might both do to change that perception. If dad says you are too hard, ask what you can both do to help Marty understand the material better.
If this sounds a little like swallowing your pride, well, it is. We must come back to the central point. The professional thing to do is what is right for the child. Defeating the parent is irrelevant. Also, remember that defending yourself implies that you’ve done something requiring a defense.
Finally, we must admit that there are times when the child and parent have every right to be angry. There is simply no way you can deal with 150 kids, making hundreds of black and white decisions every day, without making some mistakes. The very first moment your error becomes apparent, you must apologize. How many times have we seen political figures make mistakes and then try to cover them up? It just doesn’t work. The longer you deny it, the more difficult it becomes to extricate yourself. Your pride becomes involved, and you are caught in an increasingly embarrassing struggle to defend a deteriorating position.
Sometimes, an immediate acknowledgment of the error, followed by a sincere apology, is what’s called for. It may also be appropriate to discuss with the parent a plan to undo the damage that was done. If the parent continues to rail about it after all that, then he looks foolish.
1. Whether the conference was called by you or the parent, plan the points you want to cover beforehand.
2. If appropriate, you should have samples of the student’s work available.
3. Also, you should know if he is enrolled in special programs or has health problems which would affect his work. You will look very foolish if, for example, you comment on his frequent energy swings only to be told by the parent that he is a diabetic and that the school was informed. Finally, if he has taken standardized tests, you should know the results even if you don’t intend to share them with the parent. The test scores might give you more insight into his behavior and performance. Poor grades could be the result of low ability or lack of motivation or outside distractions. Standardized test scores might lead you to a correct conclusion long before you would be able to judge it for yourself.
4. Try to anticipate a parent’s questions so that you will have already formulated an answer. Typical questions are:
“Is Andy distracted by other students?”
“Does Carla talk too much or act up in class?”
“Do you think Cody has trouble understanding what’s going on in class?”
“How has Laura’s homework been?”
“Should Richard come in after school for extra help?”
“Is Gary’s grade affected more by his homework or his tests?”
5. Create an atmosphere where the parent will feel you are both on the same side. Begin the conference on a friendly, positive note. Try to be encouraging even when making negative comments. For example, “Mary is so creative that I’m sure she could do much better if she would only spend more time on her homework.”
6. Be a good listener. The conference should be a conversation, not a monologue.
7. If problems were discussed, you should conclude the conference with a plan for action that includes the parent.
A List of Don’ts
1. While it is perfectly reasonable to compare the child’s academic performance with others in general, don’t compare individual students.
2. Don’t betray the confidentiality of any information you learn during a conference.
3. Don’t make derogatory remarks about other teachers, the administration or the school.
4. Don’t argue with a parent or take a defensive posture. Instead, try to focus on positive changes you can both make for the child’s benefit.
Go to “How to Run a Study Hall“