You’ve dealt with difficult parents, I’ve dealt with difficult parents, we’ve all dealt with difficult parents, and we’re going to for the rest of our careers. Truthfully, though, dealing with difficult parents is probably the scariest part of teaching and it takes a lot out of us. Honestly, I can give you all the effective teaching strategies in the world and you would still be scared when dealing with these types of parents. It’s just reality. I still get a little nervous when I have to deal with irate parents because I don’t want to say or do the wrong thing. And I write about effective teaching strategies on a website called Effective Teaching Strategies. Not surprisingly, I have yet to meet a teacher or administrator who doesn’t get at least a little nervous when dealing with difficult parents. Some educators may seem as cool as ice because they’ve dealt with so many difficult parents, but believe me, no administrators or teachers enjoy dealing with difficult students. Luckily, you’ve come to the right place. Effective teaching strategies for dealing with difficult parents are available, but unlike the Quick and Effective Teaching Strategies offered on this site, there are no quick teaching strategy fixes for dealing with difficult parents. However, if you follow through this post to the end, you’ll get the feeling from my story, and the effective teaching strategies offered, that you can stand up and say the right things to even the most difficult of parents.
Learning from Experiences with Difficult Parents
I can remember a specific time in my teaching career when I was faced with a very difficult parent. It was my first year of teaching and a student was having issues in my class. She was smart, but something was up and her grades were slipping. Her behavior was even worse. Before the year started I had actually been warned by another teacher that her father was very difficult and even scary. One day the phone in the English Office rang and I just happened to answer it.
- “Is Laurence there?”
- “Yes,” I said. “This is Laurence.”
- “I need you to come to my office immediately.” It was a guidance counselor. Her voice was filled with fear.
- “Is everything all right?”
- “Mr. ——- is here and needs to speak with you…”
Of course (of course!) it was the “difficult parent” I was warned about. I even heard the man’s voice in the background. He was screaming at someone. I jetted to the Guidance Office. I’m not going to lie. I was scared. I still remember the feeling. When I made it into the Guidance Office I could hear the yelling. I took a deep breath. What were the chances that he’d hit me? I took another deep breath and knocked on the door. The man was irate, but managed to shake my hand. I wonder if he knew my hand could have shaken itself? He demanded to know what was going on in my class. Report cards had just been sent home and his daughter had neglected to tell him that her grades had slipped. The father was justifiably angry. But I also noticed something about his anger: it wasn’t directed as much at the guidance counselor or at me. It was directed at his daughter. Rightfully so, her father was very angry. I’m not going to lie: I was still scared. I was twenty-two and naive. I had never been in a situation with a man as angry as he was. He was so angry he literally could have killed me. But I stayed calm, and we talked for a good twenty minutes about the situation. Luckily, I had another educator with me who was trained in the art of dealing with difficult parents. It helped. A lot. But what if you’re alone?
How Can My Experience Help You Deal with Difficult Parents?
I learned so much from that encounter. It’s been ten years but I still remember it and think about the lessons I learned. The next time you are dealing with difficult parents, remember these tips: Listen without talking. This is the hardest thing to do, but you need to hear what the parents have to say in order to reduce the tension in the room. Stay calm. I know: easier said than done. But, if I had lost my cool the situation could have exploded into something entirely worse. Just because this man was large and intimidating didn’t mean he wasn’t in the right. Breathe deeply and slowly. Slowing your breathing will help you relax. In this situation, you will need to remember to breathe. You don’t want to collapse and you need to think straight. Let the parents speak their minds. Allow them to vent. Allow them to “talk themselves out.” Remember: If you are having problems with the student, the parents are too. And it hurts them more. Many parents don’t have an outlet to discuss these problems. You may be the only person whom they believe will understand their frustration. Problem solve with the parents. By focusing on the problem at hand, you will be able to take the pressure off of your actions. You can then offer help instead to get the student back on track. Fear of difficult parents unfortunately leads many teachers to put off calling parents. If you follow these 5 tips when talking with the parents, you will find that the conversation never goes as badly as you imagine. Good luck and stay strong when dealing with difficult parents!