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Staying Positive in the Face of Difficult Parent Conferences

Posted by Emily Guthrie on Nov 4, 2014 7:22:03 AM

Last year, I wrote a post with advice for creating positive parent-teacher conferences and I must say that I enjoy talking with most parents that come in to speak with me. That being said, there are some difficult parent conferences that we have all experienced over the years and I'd like to write today about ways to remain positive in the face of some of these dreaded phrases:

  • "Your class is the only one he is struggling with, so it must be your teaching that is the problem."
    • Most of the time this information is sketchy at best, but if you don't have the data in front of you, you cannot call them on any untruths or exaggerations.  When this type of comment starts, I like to redirect to focus only on my particular class.  Do not get caught up in evaluating or comparing yourself to your colleagues.  In as logical a fashion as possible, go through the study habits, assessment scores, participation, and other information for the student and reinforce the homework/study expectations and any tutoring or office hours that you offer.
  • "She is just not interested in the books you are reading in your class."
    • This one always takes me by surprise because I take pains to pick out the most engaging texts that are appropriate to the class.  I also subscribe the the school of sometimes-you-have-to-do-things-you-don't-want-to-do.  In my opinion, the best way to handle this parent is to emphasize the wide range of engaging texts that you teach.  Show how excited you are about your curriculum and hope that the literature love is contagious.
  • "He's just not good at English."
    • I don't think we get this one as much as our colleagues in the math department, but when this one comes up, reassure parents that your job is to teach the students in front of you.  If they were already prodigies in English, they would not need your class.  Encourage parents to trust the process in order to improve skills regardless of natural ability or previous experience.
  • "She just doesn't have time to study for your class because of a sport, job, extra-curricular, etc."
    • Even though I want to stress the importance of academics over other commitments, I understand that there is value (and sometimes necessity) to activities outside the classroom. Sympathize with this parent and give a few suggestions for balancing obligations, like coming in early before school to work on homework or using the quizlet app to study on the bus to an away game.  The expectations and deadlines must be clear and consistent for all students, so be firm, yet sympathetic.
  • "He says you hate him."
    • Yeah, like teachers have the time and energy to go around hating students and taking it out on their grades! But to spin this in a positive direction, you have to emphasize the positive traits of said student, taking pains to smile.  Show the parents how kind and reasonable you are, and they will be less inclined to believe their child next time.
  • "She says everyone is failing." 
    • Be careful, this parent is baiting you.  Do not get caught up in comparing students or talking about class averages, which can get really ugly really fast. Reinforce the opportunities and criteria for success in your class.
  • "Can you walk me through the entire semester and outline your common core alignment."
    • In my opinion, this parent is best deflected to the dean of curriculum or department chair.  If it is an open call conference night, you can also ask this parent to make a special appointment to give you time to prepare yourself and make sure that you don't end up with a long line backing up outside your door while one parent monopolizes your time.
  • "Can you call me every time he misses an assignment or gets below a B on an assessment?"
    • For me, this is not a reasonable request.  With 34+ students in a class, I simply do not have the time to make that many phone calls.  Instead, offer what you can.  If the grades are kept online, inform them about the frequency of grade updates.  If email is better for you, offer to send a quick email check in if the overall grade drops below a C.  Whatever you pick, be sure that it is something you can reasonably cram into your busy schedule.

What would you add to this list?  Leave questions, comments, and suggestions below.  Thanks for visiting us!

Topics: conferences, Holiday/Seasonal, parents, tips

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