By Meshell Thornley
Parents/Guardians. Many teachers agree that they are one of the scariest parts of our job. I can remember feelings of anxiety that came with meeting parents my first few years on the job. I wish I could say those feelings do not crop up now that I’m a veteran teacher, but I cannot. But I have had my perspective change over the years. So without further ado, these are my top five tips for working with parents/guardians.
1. Be on their side.
At some point in time during my first one-on-one contact with a parents I try to express my belief that I am on their team. Good or bad, they are the first and most important educator of their child. As a result, we as teachers are secondary. I don’t mean to down play our importance. Without a doubt, we have the power to make or break a child. By expressing our support of them as parents they are then free to be open with us and to share and brainstorm about working with their child.
2. Frequent contact is important.
I am ashamed to realize I did not learn this lesson fully until I became a parent. If you make casual contact frequently you can get by with less of the formal, more time-consuming types of contacts. Keep in mind this only works if you have made an initial effort to make a more formal, time-consuming contact towards the beginning of the year.
You see, your first formal contact that is not required sends the message to parents that you do actually care about their child.
Being able to say something positive and be able to discuss the parents’ recommendation on how to handle their child allows the parents to see that you will work with them. After that, your little notes and social media posts will have a positive connotation connected with them. And as a result, you can get by with less phone and face-to-face contact. Keep in mind that with some students, you are going to be the one desiring the contact because the parents can empower you when working with their ‘difficult’ child.
3. Remember, they know their child best.
Every year I smile as parents look at me and say, “Are you talking about my child?” Students are different for us than they are for their parents. Whether it’s that they are super neat at school, but not at home. Or that they are quiet at school, but not at home. The reality is we see a different side of students than their parents do. I know this has given me the impression that I might know a student better than their parents do, but the majority of the time this is not true.
As a parent, we are present at the birth of the child and for the majority of developmental milestones thereafter. Obviously the parent is going to know their child best. They have been around a great deal more. Keeping this in mind will help you to meet that child’s needs. Thinking back to my own daughter’s second grade year I can remember feeling as if her teachers were not recognizing this very fact. They were trying interventions with her and I only found out about after the fact. I can remember thinking, “If they had only asked me I could have told them that that wasn’t going to work.” Parents know things we do not, even if they are not the educational experts we are.
4. Admit your errors.
We all make mistakes. Hopefully they are not big mistakes. And hopefully they do not negatively effect a child–but when you do make a mistake, own it. If possible, catch the mistake and let the parent know prior to them finding it themselves. Apologize. Don’t make excuses or try to explain. Admit you were wrong and apologize. If they want an explanation they’ll ask for it. Now here is the REALLY scary part. Make sure your administrator knows of your mistake first (especially if it is a big mistake) and they can be supportive as you make the parent contact. In some cases they may advise you not to make a contact and you should do as they suggest.
5. No, parents cannot do your job.
After all of these words about how important parents are–you need to realize that you are too. There are ways we can influence students their parents cannot. This is why parents need us to be their partners!
Also keep in mind that just because parents might be professionals or be able to talk educational theory does not mean they can do your job. You are highly trained. You are skilled at forming relationships with students. You are skilled at recognizing the needs of 25 students all in the same day (and usually all at the same time)! You are professional and intelligent even if you use first grade words all day!
You are great and your superpower is teaching!
A K-State College of Education graduate, Meshell is a gifted facilitator for Manhattan-Ogden schools. She has worked in gifted education for the past 12 years. A mother of two children who attend Manhattan-Ogden schools, she is currently working on a graduate degree in Building Leadership in K-State’s College of Education.