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For Administrators

Unreasonable Parents: 5 Sure-Fire Coping Tactics for Teachers

By Brian P. Gatens January 7, 2016

It’s going to happen. You’ll be doing everything right — classes flowing smoothly, students enjoying your challenges, assessments being administered and grades being reported — but there’s one family that simply isn’t happy.

Teachers dealing with unreasonable parents need specific coping tactics.Whether they object to their child’s classroom experience, learning progress or overall experience, they’ll return to you time and time again with concerns and complaints. How should teachers respond to parents who seem like they are never satisfied? I recommend these approaches:

Stick to the facts

Always ground yourself in the facts of the situation. When a parent begins to express concern about their child’s experience, it’s best to have documentation to support your side. This could be written instructions for assignments that were distributed, your log of extra-help sessions or previous communications with the family.

Unreasonable parents often have inaccurate impressions of their child’s school experience. Having your facts all lined up will help address those concerns quickly and easily.

Get help from colleagues or supervisors

Often you are simply the next person in line for this family — as they have had run-ins with other colleagues over the years. As soon as you begin to notice that the tone and direction of your relationship has taken a negative turn, reach out to a supervisor or trusted colleague to share your concerns.

If the parent requests a meeting with you, bring along either your supervisor or a grade-level colleague to participate and offer input. It also helps to have another set of eyes on the conversation in case the parent takes away a different interpretation of what transpired.

Avoid self-inflicted wounds

A favorite expression of mine is, “All of our wounds are self-inflicted.” It’s rare for parents to go out of their way to bring issues to our attention. Often, we’ve done something — forgotten an assignment, missed a follow-up phone call or made a minor error in classroom judgment — that roused the parent’s concerns.

The reasonable parent will forgive a minor error and move on. The unreasonable parent will continue to harp on a single slip-up, making it sound like it’s indicative of your overall performance. To minimize this, you have to stay attentive to your professional conduct. If you make an error, work quickly to address it.

Look at the big picture

Contentious relationships with families are (rightfully so) upsetting for caring and dedicated teachers. As intense as this one conflict may feel in the moment, take a step back and remind yourself that the children (and parents) you serve will vastly outnumber the few who have issues with your performance.

Most likely, you’re just the next person in the parent’s way. After they’re done with your class, they’ll treat next year’s teachers the same way.

Prize civility above all

Never forget you’re the professional in the room. An unreasonable parent may lash out, make outlandish claims and even go so far as to threaten your job. As difficult as it may be (and as easy as it is for me to type), remember to work hard to keep your cool while this is happening.

You have the right to end a meeting where you’re feeling personally attacked, and an administrator should do so on your behalf. Regardless of the family’s behavior, you don’t have the right to react in kind. Do not raise your voice or become contentious. Doing so trades away your authority in the situation, and repositions the issue so that it’s far more about you than about the situation at hand. Keep your head high.

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