Do you teach young learners in an academy or in the public sector? If so, you almost certainly write reports and meet parents at teacher/parent evenings. What do you do to prepare for these? What do you say to parents whose kids are having difficulties with their learning? Do you prepare anything to give to parents about helping with their child’s learning? What is acceptable and not acceptable when speaking to parents?
My first experience with parents was a complete shock. OK, all the boys were standing on their heads when I came into the classroom, but why did all their parents rush to school next day to meet me after hours?! Looking at their pale faces and listening to their semi-coherent queries, I realized a very important thing: as a teacher, I was the one who could leave any note in the class manual and in the children’s term reports or evaluations.
The parents were afraid that after their kids’ prank, there might be repercussions. “Headmasters have powers at their disposal with which Prime Ministers have never yet been invested”, wrote Winston Churchill in his book “My Early Life”. What did I do, what did I say to the worried parents? I made it a point to visit absolutely every PTA meeting for my classes, and delivered the same words of wisdom: “I don’t try to come and work at your dentist’s chair or your laboratory; please, do not come to my blackboard. If needed, I will call you”. I told all the beginners’ parents that their young children were very talented, so there was no cause for worry. This made me an instant favourite. More importantly, this is what I truly believe: all the children can be taught. My attitude translated well.
Naturally an important factor in the parents accepting my words was that they knew me well. What does a young teacher do in any difficult situation? Let us try to classify them.
Accidents happen We are teachers, not caregivers or guardians. We are also human beings with normal emotions and reactions. While the children are at school, we are responsible not only for teaching them, but also for dealing with accidents, emergencies, and yes, behavioral problems. It is clear that when anything really bad happens, we are to notify the school administration and call the parents or guardians if possible, or an ambulance or a fire brigade. We are all trained for that.
Parents Should Be Chosen with Care There is a lot of truth in that old joke
A Beginner Teacher Facing the Parents for the First time
There may be an unfavourable or even a hostile reaction simply because all the parents are much older, and more experienced than you are. They may ask out loud if you know anything about children’s psychology, or just stare at you in an unpleasant way. It is very important to prepare mentally for your first PTA meeting. Remind yourself that you are the one who is entrusted with teaching this subject and managing the class. Be ready to acknowledge that you are aware of the existing problems. Remember that not every parent is on your side, or even on the side of the child. Study the class roster, learn about the family situation if possible, and exercise caution. Work out your own strategy and stick to it. For example, if you are asked any question about your methods of teaching, explain what you are doing and what you hope to achieve with the class. Listen carefully to any possible criticism and any wishes expressed, then thank everybody and simply repeat what you have just said again. This way, you will show the audience that you know what you are doing. Parents are responsible for their children’s well-being and behaviour; you are responsible for their studies.
When Parents Disagree with us, or Are Hostile, or Absent
Let us look at some typical examples. A very talented teen girl acted out in class; I discovered that all the teachers commented on her behaviour, and used various punishments on her, to no effect. I called her mother and asked her to stop by, hoping for a friendly talk. Instead, her father appeared in my class. He strode in and belligerently shouted from the door-way, “What’s the problem? Just tell me, and I’ll show this little *itch!” Everything became crystal clear at once. I mildly told him that I simply wanted to work out an individual program for his extremely talented daughter, and to be sure it was all right with her parents if I recommended her for the school competitions et cetera. He was very pleased. I carefully talked to my colleagues, beginning with the girl’s homeroom teacher, and we gradually managed to help the child. A child’s grades may slip after a divorce or a death in the family, or any calamity, or when they fall in love. Basically, if a good student starts acting weird, it may be a signal for us to try and learn what happened to them. If any child behaves strangely, we may watch them to see if there are any serious psychological problems, and then consult the school administration.
Children Are Their Parents’ Mirrors
This is often true, though sometimes a bully of a parent or a drunkard may have a very talented well-behaved child. Look at your own class anew. Every pupil is a unique individual. A very beautiful girl may have very plain parents; a boy brought up in a foster home may be very affectionate and family-oriented. I had several very gifted pupils whose parents were lorry drivers and cooks. There are orphans growing up in a children’s home, or living with a relative or guardian. There are no rules, we cannot look at a child and predict what may happen next. In the same way, there are no definite criteria for the parents. They also come in all shapes and sizes, as well as in all ages.
Amazing but true: we teachers are also unique. No two teachers are the same. We don’t know what to expect when we face the parents for the first time. They don’t know anything about us either. If we show confidence, try to answer all the questions to the best of our abilities, and find a kind word to say about every pupil, we shall have most of the parents on our side. Among other positive effects, they will deal with any aggressive or absentee parents themselves, and support us throughout the school years. The more we adults manage to work together, the better results our classes will show.