Preparing for a parent-teacher conference with a difficult parent is often more stressful than dealing with the difficult student on a daily basis. Many times the parent is the reason your student is having so much trouble at school. But, sometimes it’s the issue at hand that turns a good parent into a difficult situation.
At a recent conference, the parent was called to a meeting to discuss the education team’s concerns of possible signs of depression in her child. The student was dressing in all black, listening to violent music, and writing about death. The school counselor came to set in on the meeting to get permission to see the child on a regular basis to help him through any issues he might be experiencing.
Right away the parent was asked if she was the child’s grandmother by one of the teachers. The woman responded angrily that she was his birth mother.
The meeting did began on a positive note about how well the child had been doing in social studies, but the conversation quickly changed to an accusing tone when the other teachers began to compare the child to that of the Columbine shooters from the 1999 school shootings. One thing to remember is that this student had not been evaluated by the counselor or any psychiatrist and had never exhibited any sign of aggression. The mother became irate and a fist fight almost broke out in the meeting.
Unfortunately, meetings like this happen more than schools like the public to know about. It is very evident that many educators do not know how to approach or handle these uncomfortable situations.
Below are several tips on how to avoid your own parent-teacher brawl.
Have your Ducks-in-a-Row
The most important step to take before going into ANY parent-teacher conference is to make sure you have all your ducks-in-a-row. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what the real situation is with the student in question. Whether it is that you are concerned about the student’s grades, their behavior in class, or even the emotional stability of the child as in some cases, be prepared to give strong examples of what THIS student is doing to back your claims.
One thing I’ve learned is that if you come ill prepared with supporting evidence that most parents quickly feel like you are alienating or have a grudge against their child.
You know those index cards you hand out to every student at the beginning of the year and have them write all their home information down so that you have an idea of each child’s background? This is when those cards really come in handy. It will give you an idea of who the student lives with and what support they may have in the home. Attempt a phone call to prepare the parent for the meeting as an option.
If the subject matter of the meeting is sensitive, go the next step and ask previous teachers who came to other conferences, what they were about, and how the parent reacted. This can help prepare you for what may happen in the meeting. Parents are people and they all have their own way of thinking and reacting to difficult situations.
Before the Meeting
Before the parent-teacher conference make sure everyone on the school staff that will be in attendance is on the same page. Have a meeting together before the parent comes in to compare notes and communicate any issues or suggestions anyone might have dealing with the student. This way, when you sit down with the parent, there will not be any discrepancies between the educational staff that might throw the meeting off task. Make sure everyone can be at the meeting on time with all supporting documents as well.
Also, it would be beneficial to write up an itinerary to follow during the meeting. This will help keep the meeting moving in a calm progressive manner. It allows for each person at the meeting to address their concerns without jumping around. If several teachers are at the meeting they may not all have the same issues with the student, so the itinerary helps give each teacher the time to discuss their own issues with the parent in an orderly fashion but with the support of having others on their educational team there to back them up.
The itinerary will also keep the meeting focused on the current issue at hand. Many times parent-teacher conferences can go astray when they are allowed to go off topic. This is when many difficult situations occur. The itinerary can help keep emotion out of your meeting. This is very important when dealing with sensitive issues.
Make the parent feel as welcomed and comfortable as possible. Remember that most parents feel intimidated by their child’s teachers. Try not to flaunt your education too much. Most parents only have a high school diploma at most and feel as if they are being judged by their child’s educators when the child has problems at school.
Start the meeting off on a positive note. I know this is starting to sound like a college textbook now, but it is essential to show the parent good in their child. More than likely they have been to numerous conferences over the years about their child’s behavior or failing grades and have lost interest in teachers telling them the same things year after year. Build their confidence by letting them know the good things their child has done so far this year.
When the time has come to talk about the issues at hand, start of the conversation gently. Using lead-ins such as “I’ve noticed…” and “lately the student has had trouble with…” make it easier for the parent to feel your concern rather that you pointing an accusing finger at their child. Try to use a positive outlook when talking to the parent even if the situation is negative. Give them light at the end of the tunnel and you will be more likely to get cooperation from them.
Again, keep the conversation on topic and do not let your emotions get in. If you allow the conversation to get off topic the issue at hand may not fully get addressed and lead to more meetings later on.Don’t be like those teachers described earlier. Be prepared and keep on task and you can avoid those uncomfortable situations that could possibly result in a confrontation or parent distrust of their child’s teachers.