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!
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.
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!