Parents. I feel that teachers have a love-hate relationship with parents. We love parents for sharing their students with us, and we love when parents are proactive and work with us to help students be successful. We hate when parents are helicopters and constantly question our decisions about our class and response to students. The reality though is that it essential for us to make parent contact and try to build solid, positive relationships with parents as much as possible.
Keeping in contact with parents can be a challenge. From phone tag, numbers that don't work, trying to keep up with emails, unreliability of letters and newsletters making it home, and social media issues, making parent contacts can be a huge stress of our job. Unfortunately I do not have some magic solution to always getting a hold of parents when I want to and make every parent contact a positive one.
Here are some tips that have been passed to me and what I have found in time teaching:
Make contact early in the school year. Many schools have a back-to-school night, so try to make the most of this time and have a conversation with parents that come and share with them some basic class information and get their contact information. If you are super organized and ambitious, you can try to make contact before this and make a parent phone call inviting them to back-to-school night and introducing yourself. This would obviously be easier for elementary teachers because they have less students that would have to called. For secondary teachers that would seem insane and I totally get it. The way this could be doable for secondary teachers would be if you have a homeroom or advisory class. Then you would have one class that you could call and make contact with personally. At my school that is what our expectation is. Within the first 2 weeks of school, we have to call all the parents in our advisory class to introduce ourselves and discuss our role as advisor.
Make the first contact a positive one if possible. If you have been working in education, you know this to be true. Parents are more apt to work with you and be receptive to negative information, if you have first had a positive conversation. Even if you do have to have a conversation with a parent about something negative related to their student, it is helpful to start with 1 to 2 positive things and then bring up the issue that happened in class with that student.
Try to make it a partnership. When you have a student that is difficult, I have found it helpful to ask for help from the parents. I ask them to help me understand their student and what we can do to help that student be successful. When parents realize it is not an 'us versus them' scenario, they might be more open to addressing classroom issues at home and supporting your actions in school.
Write a script. If you are a new teacher or just uncomfortable talking to parents, it could help to write a script. I definitely did this when I was a first year teacher, because I had never done it and while I am super comfortable talking to 130 teenagers in a day talking to their parents is something else entirely. I still use scripts now, mainly because it keeps me on topic. Sometimes a parent just wants to talk and then I get off topic or after making so many calls I just forget what I need to talk about. Either way writing it down and having it in front of me is helpful.
Don't take it personally. This is hard. I still find this hard to a certain extent. When a parent is hard on you, it can be easy to take it personally, just as it is when a student is difficult. The thing to remember is that parents are trying to look out for their students and they don't know what it is like in the classroom most of the time and they have only heard one side of the story. As the teacher our job is to first listen and then ask questions that help get to the root of the problem. Then discuss with parents your version of things and reassure parents that our goal is have students be successful. We all want what is best for our students. When parents are going off though it 99% of the time isn't really about you, but frustration with their student, their history with teachers and education, or any number of family issues that could be happening. I know that when it comes down to it, that may not help you feel better when you have a rough parent contact but it can help you put it in perspective when you are more calm.
Make use of Technology. There are so many tools out there now that can help you reach out to parents. They definitely can make life easier for you and parents. Here are some tools you can try out: