How do you handle difficult parents?
Along with teaching English and French, I'm also the yearbook adviser. We have a tradition that some call senior ads and that I call senior tributes. Parents purchase part of a page or a full page and fill it with sentimental notes and pictures. This year, I got a nasty email from a mother who accused me of ruining her daughter's high school experience by not putting every picture she wanted on the page. (What a picture of her holding a toy vacuum cleaner has to do with her high school experience, I'll never know!) This woman accused me of everything from being a bitter old hag to needing to talk to God about my problem (I don't know what that problem is!). I'm surprised she didn't accused me kicking her dog!
I forwarded the email to my principal and let him deal with it--after crying for a while. (What if she was right?)
How do you deal with difficult parents?
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Linda, as a former yearbook adviser, believe me, I feel your pain! The woman you describe has more problems in her life than a senior tribute. Seriously, she does, and she vented on you. Don't take it personally. It's hard to be objective when somebody is using you as a punching bag, but try to disengage. Chances are nothing you could say or do would satisfy her because the senior tribute is not her real problem. She probably doesn't even know what is truly upsetting her--or, she could just be a combative person who likes to fight. As teachers, we are expected to communicate with parents, but communicating with parents does not mean being abused. That is not part of the job description. "I understand you are unhappy. I'm sorry you feel that way." Hang up. Log off. Go get coffee.
That said, how to deal with difficult parents in general? I once heard this advice in dealing with a hostile parent in a conference setting. According to somebody's research somewhere, if an angry parent is allowed to go through the particulars of a complaint three times without interruption, he or she then will be open to a productive discussion. I'm not sure why the third time is the charm, but I have seen this approach work. (I once witnessed a parent eventually talk herself out of her own position!) Good luck, and enjoy the beautiful yearbook I know you knocked yourself out to produce.
The first thing I do is to immediately save all documentation that would prove that what I am doing is completely opposite from what the parent claims. I always keep a file with any paper I ever send that parents might read because in our specific school our parents have a massive problem comprehending written documents ;)
Second, alert the principal and tell what steps you plan to take and have the principal approve. Don't do anything without the principal knowing.
Third, when the parent comes blaming you, have the ammo ready to revert the situation and, like msmonica said put the problem back in the parent's field.
In all, you did all the right things. I wish this part of the job was put in the job descriptions of every school LOL
My heart truly goes out to you! I've been there. I cried, too. Like water off a duck's back, my friend, . . . like water off a duck's back. And as great advice as that is, I'm such a sensitive soul that I've NEVER been able to take it myself. Ha! I have always been happier, as I always say, "when it is just me and the kids." Gosh, we have a blast learning about Literature. Get parents involved and everything gets mucky.
The sooner you can put this behind you, the better. For me, I'm afraid the only thing that allowed me to do that was one word: TIME. Hope it's faster for you than it always has been for me. And I'm just SO glad that there's a forum like this that allows for venting and commiserating!!!
mrsmonica hit the nail on the head with noting that it is the mom's problem. While her point was that it is really not your problem, I'd also bet that it is not even so much the student's issue. The girl probably couldn't care less if all the pix are in the ad, but mom is trying to throw her weight around. Mom also needs something more important to worry about. I've been teaching for a while, and it seems that the parents who get upset over minor things are the ones who do not have too much going on themselves. For example, I have noticed that the biggest yellers and screamers at kids' sporting events usually do not look like they could make it across the field or court without panting....
"IEP" stands for Individualized Educational Plan, which is the legal document governing special education for students identified as meeting the state & federal criteria for disability.
About 98% of my kids are IEP kids and I have a few parents who think that their kids are exempt from...well...life. Sometimes they try to make absolutely outlandish expectations like "no homework, all assignments can be turned in super late, etc.". I have found that you need to keep a very diplomatic attitude, don't offer up any more information than what is asked and keep your cool. It helps to have a very supportive administration so you forwarding that to yours was the right step.
As harsh as it may sound, some parents are just crazy. You can do no right, and their child can do no wrong. It is the nature of the beast really. The parents who make outlandish requests (like that mom) and then berate you are just in the "crazy" category. Don't let it get to you and try to avoid any unnecessary contact with them, although I will say that crying has helped me release frustration now and again.
One thing that I found that personally helps me through dealing with the crazies is after I have to read that e-mail, or talk to that parent on the phone, I make a good phone call. It is nice when parents hear that their son/daughter is doing well and it makes you feel good too.
Another thing I do is go out about once a week with my teacher-friends and "nerd-up" the local pub. We sit down, order a few rounds and let off steam (minus names naturally for the sake of confidentiality) about parents, kids, assignments and the like. Hearing others horror stories can help you see that you are not alone and also not the worse one off. We also share the endearing comments and the a-ha moments that we see in our classrooms. Group therapy if you will.
Either way, dont let them get to you because you will be dealing with them until you retire.
I'll respond to this topic from the perspectives of being a parent myself, having also been a teacher and a principal. When I was a teacher, I always approached situations with parents knowing that the student is the parent's only concern, even though I had lots of students and lots of issues. That helped me to separate myself from the situation and not to take personal attacks so hard if they occurred.
Having said that, I want to underscore as an administrator that ALL you owe a parent in this circumstance is a polite hearing of her concerns. You did exactly the right thing to turn it over to your principal once it became clear that the parent was behaving abusively and inappropriately toward you. No teacher is paid enough to put up with that from a parent; administrators are trained to deal with it and compensated for it, so let them handle it.
Don't let it get you down. You work hard for all your students and you are the final judge of what goes into the yearbook. Let this mom's problem be just that, her problem.
Well, I'm going to disagree with krishna-agrawala about one thing: sometimes crying, when done in private and away from the offending person and place, is part of the solution. Pretending parts of your job don't faze you will only make the situation worse for you.
I definitely think that dealing with parents is one of the most difficult jobs we have. It's always nice to have an administrator or another "higher-up" in your corner during intense situations with parents. Just the other day, I received an e-mail from a parent angry with me because I would not give a student extra credit for something that was incomplete. I showed the e-mail (and my original written notification of the requirements) to the student's counselor, then we both went together to my administrator, and both counselor and administrator were extremely supportive. Sometimes, having that back-up plan / "defensive line" works to your advantage, not just in a particular situation, but also for your confidence.
Also, over the years, I have learned to remain calm -- or at least to pretend I am calm. :) Keeping your tone even and "stating the facts" -- using a very logical approach when talking to parents and students -- can help a lot.
I hope this information helps! Concerning your particular situation, you might want to go ahead and personally speak to your administrators about the situation, too. Just remember that we don't have too much left of the school year! :)
Having only taught for five years, I still have difficulty with parents. I most likely would have reacted the same way that you did. In terms of failures, I usually have my students call their parents using my cell phone. That takes some of the pressure off of me.
Having been a yearbook advisor, I know that few things get a parent fired up more than a yearbook! Heaven forbid you should modify a tradition, or have expectations about what should or should not be included!
I do think it was right to pass the problem on to your administrator. I hope your principal gives you the support you are looking for in dealing with this parent.
I agree with Mrs.Monica as well. I think the first thing to do when it comes with difficult parents is to first build a rapport with them. Calling them the first day of school or before the child misbehaves, sending home a good note about the child, listing positives before the negatives and etc. when you have conferences. Personally, I think some teachers are reactive as opposed to proactive and don't contact parents until they have an issue.
In your situation, just to look at both aspects of the situation...Did you consider the parents perspective? You may not think the picture of the child and vaccum is important; however that mother is paying for her child's yearbook page, and probably put a lot of time and effort into selecting which pictures she would like on this page. I think this situation could have been prevented if the parent was contacted prior to the yearbook going out and alerting her in advance that all of the pictures might not fit. (Being proactive!)
There's never a one answer way of dealing with difficult parents. But keep this in mind they're difficult because they are concerned about their child. You shouldn't take it personal.
I think I would have told the parent that if a picture was what made or broke her daughter's high school experience; then she must have done something way wrong as a parent!
Whar are IEP kids? I have never heard of that expression.
I deal with parents all the time. I always restate what they say and then ask them what they would do in my shoes. With very limited space, ask the mother if every parents wanted every photo in the book, it would end up being 1000 pages. Ask her if she wants to pay for it.
A parent setting should never be antagonistic let alone defensive on the part of the teacher. Just restate what they say and ask them what they would do in your position.
Difficult people are difficult, because there is no easy way of dealing with them.
How you deal with them will depend from situation to situation, but crying is not a part of the right way to respond in any situation. Remaining emotionally calm even under difficult situation, can be the most important single capability one can possess under the situation.
When possible, just ignoring such persons may be the best solution. Of course this need not stop you from informing about the offending behavior, who need to know.
You need not accept abusive language from any one. Subject to this one condition I will say it is a good practice to give a patient hearing to a person with a complaint, even when you believe the complaint is not justified. If necessary, you can explain your position calmly and calmly after listening to the parent.
In case of unacceptable behaviour in face to face communication, you can ask the other person to leave or withdraw yourself from the scene. But it is important to do this calmly.
As a teacher it is important to ensure that you are not prejudiced against a student because of offensive behavior of the parents.
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