Friday, November 6, 2015

How to Cope with a Disrespectful Parent

Advice from Real Teachers Series

How to Cope With a Disrespectful Parent - Advice from Real Teachers post on Corkboard Connections
We've all been there, so if this happens to you, don't be caught off guard! Imagine that a parent of one of your students accosts you in your classroom or in the hallway after school and begins verbally attacking you ... and you are so stunned that you just stand there, completely tongue-tied! You know you shouldn't allow another adult to speak to you in such a disrespectful way, but you have no idea how to respond in a professional manner or how to prevent it from happening again.

A few weeks ago I posted a question on Facebook that had been submitted by "Lynn," a new teacher who wanted to know how to handle this situation. Here's what she wrote:

"The parent of two of my students is being completely inappropriate in her communication with me. She is harassing, called me names, and cussed. She questions every grade given to her children and takes it upon herself to tell me how to teach. She is also a teacher at another school district. Did I mention that this is a private Catholic school? I am getting very little support from my principal, but my mentor teacher is very supportive. Any suggestions on how to get this parent to back off? I am a first year teacher, and I have been told she causes a problem every year with one teacher or another. What can you do when administration will not put a stop to harassing parents?"

Advice for Coping with a Disrespectful Parent
When I shared Lynn's question with the followers of Teaching Resources, I knew that it was a tough one, and I wondered if anyone would be able to offer helpful advice. So I was astounded to see that over 140 fellow educators responded with some terrific and very detailed suggestions! You can read her question and all the suggestions here on Facebook. Normally I shared 15 or 20 ideas here on my blog, but there were so many suggestions that were filled with helpful details that I'm only going to share three examples and you can read the others on your own.
  • Mary Hurst - I'm not sure how things are handled in private school, but please make sure that you keep evidence of every conversation that you have with her. Print your emails and keep them in a folder, document every conversation in a file and keep both hard copies and computer files, etc. You may need them in order to get her to back off. I'm not sure where you are, but you might be able to file legal charges against her if it continues. You may have to tell your Principal that you will pursue that option if the harassment doesn't stop. I sure hopt hings get better.
  • Ginger Henderson - I had a similar situation, although I had support from my administration. I stopped all communication with the parent. I would read whatever the mother or father would send in, but my I did not respond. If it was an email, I'd reply with something like "thank you for letting me know about your concerns" just so they would know I had received and read the message. Then I just let it roll right off my back and continued teaching my class. If they request a conference be sure to have another person present, whether it's a principal, counselor, mentor teacher, etc... In my experience the best way to deal with this is to ignore as much as possible.
  • Vi Petalu - Call a prearranged parent meeting with administrator, mentor teacher, parent, and a stack of data. Let her know the attendees and agenda in advance. Get permission that the conversation be recorded. Back all your claims up with facts. If she won't agree to have the conversation recorded, take minutes to be later shared with all attendees electronically, noting that she didn't agree to have it recorded. Repeat as necessary. Discourage bad behavior with inconvenience and facts. After all, if she truly has a concern, she won't mind taking her own personal time to get things cleared up, right? At the end of the day, everyone is on the same page, wanting student success and happiness, but sometimes it takes time to get everyone there. Listen to her concerns and do all you can to accommodate, but in the end, it's facts and accepting that some people are never satisfied. However, at least that way, you have witnesses and documentation of your earnest, repeated efforts to resolve the situation.

Flashback to My Early Teaching Days

Reading Lynn's question and the advice from other teachers reminded me of a similar situation that happened a few years after I started teaching. A parent came to see me after school to discuss some concerns, and she immediately began speaking to me in a completely inappropriate manner. She had never even visited my classroom, yet she began attacking my teaching methods, my classroom management style, my grading policies, and she just went on and on! I had been taught to treat others with respect, and I had no idea how to defend myself against her verbal abuse. I stayed calm while she was there, but when she finally left I broke down and cried! It wasn't that I felt I had done anything wrong; I was upset with myself that I couldn't figure out a way to stop her verbal abuse and I just took it. When I later told my husband about the incident and how helpless I felt, he said, "Why didn't you just get up and walk out on her?" I was shocked and replied, "What? I couldn't just walk out and leave her in my classroom!" To which he responded, "Why not? You shouldn't let her talk to you that way. If it happens again and she won't leave, just walk out and go find an administrator."


Let's Try that One More Time!
As you might have guessed, it did happen again, but this time I was ready. First, I talked to her as calmly and politely as I could, hoping that I could reason with her and diffuse the situation. But when that didn't work and I had had enough of her verbal abuse, I stood up and said, "I'm sorry, but it seems that we don't agree about these issues. We need to reschedule our conference for a time when an administrator can meet with us."

The woman did not take the hint that it was time for her to leave and she continued talking to me in an extremely disrespectful manner. So I did exactly what my husband advised me to do, and I walked out. As I was leaving, I turned to look at her and saw that she was dumbfounded! She couldn't believe that I would walk out when she wasn't finished blasting me. She yelled, "I'm going to talk to the principal about this!" To which I calmly replied, "That's exactly where I'm headed and you are welcome to come along." I did talk to the principal, but (not surprisingly) the parent didn't join us. She did talk to him later, but he backed me and stood up to her. Even though the situation was difficult for me, I was proud of myself for first keeping calm and trying to reason with her, and then leaving the room when it was clear that she would not stop her verbal abuse. I didn't have any more problems with that parent the rest of the year, but I was careful not to talk with her alone.

Be Prepared and Plan Ahead
Have you ever  had this situation or something similar happen to you? If so, how did you handle it? If it ever happened again, would you handle it differently? Why?

I'm not advising you to handle a situation like this the way I did because you have to do what feels right to you. However, it's a good idea to think ahead to how you might act if something like this did happen to you. Be sure to read the responses to Lynn's question because the educators who responded shared some terrific strategies. If you're a new teacher, ask your mentor or consult other teachers to find out how they would handle a disrespectful parent.

The Question Connection
Do you have a teacher question for the followers of the Teaching Resources Facebook page? If so, click over to this Google Doc form where you can submit your question. I'm not able to share them all, but be sure you to follow my Facebook page so you'll see the responses if I share yours. Also, if you see a question pop up in your Facebook feed that you can answer, please jump in and share your expertise! Your helpful advice might save the day for a teacher who is frustrated or discouraged. Together we can make a difference!





6 comments:

  1. Great post. It's been a long time since I've had a truly disrespectful or unfair parent, but I sure remember what it felt like! When it happened, I had an extremely supportive principal. These are great tips. It never hurts to be prepared for the worst! Thanks.
    Jan
    Laughter and Consistency

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  2. This is my 19th year to teach and I have been fortunate enough to have only a few very disrespectful parents...until this year. I have had 6. Yes, that's right 6. Out of the 10 weeks of school, I have had only 2 weeks of not being called to the principal's office for bizarre claims of my having inappropriate discussions in class (4th grade), being rude to students and/or parents, etc., etc. These 6 people went straight to our new-to-our-school principal trying to see what they could get away with while through me under the "bus." I've never been so anxious, depressed, and ready to quit. Two students were moved out of my class to another. The other three, the principal and I worked with the parents through a series of meetings. It's been exhausting, time consuming, and down right frustrating, but after week 11 things have finally calmed down. These parents were just plain bullies (as per my school counselor) and I was about to go to my Teacher Association. My question is Why do parents think they need to be so mean to teachers?

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    Replies
    1. I'll bet that at least some of these parents know each other outside of school (neighbors, sports teams, etc.) and have built up things through discussions, facebook, etc. I once car pooled to my son's field trip with other parents who didn't know I was a teacher. I was shocked at the negative discussion about his awesome teacher and after a few minutes, went on a rant about how unfair they were (it was a quiet ride after that!) Anyway, not having admin support is awful and I would definitely let him/her know how you feel. You could ask if s/he thinks that you are in the wrong here. If s/he say no but you need to just placate the parents, remind him/her that it may be seem easier to let you take the blame and not stand up to these bullies but that this will go on and on until he does (even with the new teacher that he moves them to.) You are not a new teacher and should feel confident telling him/her (in a non-threatening way) This should be his/her fight, not yours. That's part of the admin's job.

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  3. said...
    I have been a day to day casual teacher for three years but this year I have been lucky enough to have my own class for the first time. I work in a low socio economic area and was warned that few of the parents do not communicate well with the school. As a result I stayed away from contacting parents until I came to know their children. My school principal gets abused by a few parents, as a result I know that I am lucky enough that he knows how it feels if any teacher gets abused by parents. This has helped me to think and prepare myself just in case a parent abuse me. So far I did not have to practice this exercise, but I hope that if and when it happens I will be prepared. My first thought is to put my hand between the parent and I, as a sign for the parent to stop. At the same time I will say the word, 'stop', hopeing that I will take control of the situation. Then I will say to the parent, 'if you need to speak to me, you need to go to the office and make an appointment'. If the parent ignores me and continues to abuse me, I will say to the parent, 'sorry but I have to leave now. Make sure to remember to make an appointment before leaving the schoo'l.
    My thought are, if the parent does not make an appointment, then that parent is a bully. If the parent asks to make an appointment, I will make sure to see that someone from the school who I feel comfortable with, be present for the meeting. I will not bring up the way that I was spoken to, but remind the parent at the beginning of the meeting that we are all working for the interest of the child.
    If by any chance the parent does not make the meeting and abuse me again, I will point out to the parent that this is the second time that he/she has talked inappropriately to me and if he/she does it again, I am going to take this kind of action seriously as it is a form of bullying. I will also remind the parent that there are lots of witnesses since the discussion is happening outside and it is important to consider that these witnesses are getting a bad impression about this parent. Most importantly it is not right for the children who are watching and listening to this kind of verbal abuse to think that this is ok. We need to show children not only to talk about bullying but this will be a good example of how to stand up and say' no to bullying'.
    Hope that this reading can help in some way, as teachers deserve better understanding by all parents. After all we are in a way the 9am to 3pm adopted parents for our class children, especially in the primary schools.

    ReplyDelete
  4. said...
    I have been a day to day casual teacher for three years but this year I have been lucky enough to have my own class for the first time. I work in a low socio economic area and was warned that few of the parents do not communicate well with the school. As a result I stayed away from contacting parents until I came to know their children. My school principal gets abused by a few parents, as a result I know that I am lucky enough that he knows how it feels if any teacher gets abused by parents. This has helped me to think and prepare myself just in case a parent abuse me. So far I did not have to practice this exercise, but I hope that if and when it happens I will be prepared. My first thought is to put my hand between the parent and I, as a sign for the parent to stop. At the same time I will say the word, 'stop', hopeing that I will take control of the situation. Then I will say to the parent, 'if you need to speak to me, you need to go to the office and make an appointment'. If the parent ignores me and continues to abuse me, I will say to the parent, 'sorry but I have to leave now. Make sure to remember to make an appointment before leaving the schoo'l.
    My thought are, if the parent does not make an appointment, then that parent is a bully. If the parent asks to make an appointment, I will make sure to see that someone from the school who I feel comfortable with, be present for the meeting. I will not bring up the way that I was spoken to, but remind the parent at the beginning of the meeting that we are all working for the interest of the child.
    If by any chance the parent does not make the meeting and abuse me again, I will point out to the parent that this is the second time that he/she has talked inappropriately to me and if he/she does it again, I am going to take this kind of action seriously as it is a form of bullying. I will also remind the parent that there are lots of witnesses since the discussion is happening outside and it is important to consider that these witnesses are getting a bad impression about this parent. Most importantly it is not right for the children who are watching and listening to this kind of verbal abuse to think that this is ok. We need to show children not only to talk about bullying but this will be a good example of how to stand up and say' no to bullying'.
    Hope that this reading can help in some way, as teachers deserve better understanding by all parents. After all we are in a way the 9am to 3pm adopted parents for our class children, especially in the primary schools.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I had been a teacher for 14 years and know how it is being in that teacher's shoes . To recount an experience I had with a parent who was new to school as was his child . It was regarding grading as the parent believed his child was the best and had to be given a full grade even if there were mistakes on the paper. At first I didn't know how to handle the situation but then I kept calm , listened to him calmly ; raised my voice to tell him what I thought and then walked out of the room .Being a Private school I understand that at times , some parents think they can get away with whatever they say simply because they are paying fees . They never realize that every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction . That parent had to move his child out of school as the child tended to become more unruly in behavior in later years .
    I feel if a teacher is hurt by what has happened ; God deals with such situations as I learnt a few years later .A parent had talked badly to a Headmistress saying what do You know about children ( the Headmistress didn't have kids but she was one loving and kind teacher) in a situation in which the child had missed his lunch bag .Years later when the headmistress was in charge of that child's grade ; the child lost his parent who had spoken so harshly . How much the Headmistress would have felt that day years back and see how God reacted to that situation . I always pray that kind of a punishment should never come to any child because of the way his/her parent behaved . What I had learnt was never take what a disrespectful parent says into heart But pray to God to help you talk in such situations .
    Elizabeth :)

    ReplyDelete