How to Deal with an Angry Parent as a Teacher – 6 Important Steps
If you’ve been teaching any length of time at all, you’ve probably dealt with a parent who was unhappy with you. Sometimes they are totally in the wrong, and other times the upset parent had a right to be a little peeved. None of us are perfect.
Here are six steps that outline how to deal with an angry parent as a teacher – whether you’ve messed up or not!
Notify the administration immediately if you’re having parent problems.
No matter what the situation, you would be wise to notify the administration immediately. This is probably best done via email, but you know your administrators best.
Some people have the philosophy that it’s better to fly under the radar. However, the surest way to have your administrator be angry at you is to put them in a situation to be blindsided by an angry parent. After all, bad parent/teacher relationships become the administrator’s problem, and you will NOT be flying under the radar with that approach.
Of course, there are times when parents go straight to the administrator without even giving you a clue that they’re mad, which is the absolute WORST THING EVER.
That’s why I think it’s smart to loop your administrators into the situation at the first whiff of confrontation. You do NOT need a lot of detail at this point, because there shouldn’t be much history or drama yet to disclose. Again, you want to send this email before anything goes totally sideways. Be concise, don’t whine, and don’t be overly rude about the parent in your administrator communications.
Here is how those emails might look in several different circumstances:
Hi Mrs. Boss Lady,
I wanted to let you know that I think Mrs. Angry Mom is upset at me. I’m assuming this based on a tense conversation we had at pick up.
I’m not entirely sure what she’s mad about, so I will be giving her a call this afternoon and offering to meet up in person.
I’ll let you know if your involvement is needed. Hopefully I can handle it by myself.
Mrs. Super Professional Teacher
Hi Mrs. Boss Lady,
I wanted to let you know that Mrs. Angry Mom may be calling you or showing up at the school unannounced. She is upset about my bathroom policy.
She confronted me over email and said she will contacting you shortly.
I am forwarding her email to you to make you aware of the situation. I am also going to copy you on my reply email, where I plan to suggest an in-person meeting. Hopefully my tone and willingness to discuss matters will diffuse the situation.
If you’d like to be briefed on my bathroom policy in advance, please let me know!
Mrs. Super Professional Teacher
Hi Mr. Head Honcho,
I just got a text message from Little Johnny’s mom, and she said she left you a voicemail about Little Johnny’s grades, because she believes my grading policy is unfair and would like me to change his grade.
I just returned her text message, and let her know I would be happy to meet with her virtually or in-person. Of course, you’re welcome to attend if she takes me up on my offer to meet.
FYI, I am adhering to our campus grading policy and have not given Little Johnny any grades below 50 or taken grades on homework. His grade is suffering because he doesn’t complete classwork.
Hopefully, I can deal with this on my own and diffuse the situation, but I wanted to make you aware of the situation since she has contacted you.
Mrs. Super Professional Teacher
Got bathroom drama in your classroom? Here are 8 bathroom pass ideas for a smoothly running classroom.
Schedule an in-person meeting with multiple parties involved – preferably several days in advance.
My emails above alluded to this practice of scheduling in-person meetings.
It’s my experience that face-to-face meetings almost always go better than back and forth dialogue over text or email. People are typically much less nasty when across the table from one another.
However, that’s not always true. There are some crazy parents out there (and a few nutty teachers, too). That’s why you want multiple parties involved, even if having an administrator or co-teacher present makes you feel vulnerable – and yes, even if you know you’re in the wrong.
You want an administrator or mentor there for support and to “cover [your] butt.” It’s not just because you want someone in your corner. In fact, if you’ve actually screwed something up, your administrator may NOT be defending you. It will be really uncomfortable.
However, what’s worse is having no one else present to document what you said and did during the meeting. You do not want to put yourself in a situation where an angry parent can make false allegations.
Go ahead and schedule the meeting several days in advance when possible. Be transparent about any other participants, although you don’t need to explain their presence.
During the few days before the meeting, think about your tone. Plan how you’ll greet the parent or guardian when they arrive. Think about where you’ll want to host the meeting and the type of environment you’ll create. Work always toward a peaceful resolution.
During the days before the meeting, gather any student performance data, work samples, documented attempts at behavior interventions, and anything else that’s been logged on paper. Being prepared is always a good thing.
Here are 35 classroom coupons you can print for FREE – to help you work on incentivizing good behavior 🙂
An Additional Resource for Dealing with Angry Parents as a Teacher
This is one of my favorite books for teachers and administrators, and I’ve actually taken a seminar from her at Stanford. You’ll get amazing tips from this book that will help you tackle all sorts of challenging conversations. She’s an educator, too.
Here’s another teacher’s review: “Excellent book on handing difficult conversations. It focuses on difficult conversations in the educational system, but is useful in other situations. I recommend it for anyone who wants to improve their ability to handle difficult conversations successful.”
Reflect humbly on the accusations.
Did you mess up? Did you treat a student unfairly? Were you inconsistent in the way you implement policies? Did you take away recess time from a student with severe ADHD? Did you fail to respond to a parent email?
If so, just own the mistake so everyone can move on. The quickest and least painful way through your mess is to admit imperfection, and try to make it right.
Honestly, if you know you were wrong (which requires humility), you’ll earn a lot more grace and understanding by admitting your failure and requesting forgiveness.
Is it fair that you’re expected to be perfect 100% of the time? Absolutely not. Teachers get very little respect these days, and that’s a tough pill to swallow. But one of the best ways we can regain respect is by being transparent about our own strengths and weaknesses and working daily to improve.
Memorize key phrases that are proven to diffuse tension.
There are certain key phrases that can help you diffuse conflict. Having them memorized, and even practiced across multiple conversations, can make a huge difference in the outcome of your parent-teacher conferences.
Not only are the phrases themselves helpful at dampening anger, but also, you’ll naturally adopt a more calming, agreeable tone and posture as you say them.
Here are some helpful sentence starters you can use when dealing with an angry parent as a teacher:
- I heard you say _________, is that what you meant? (Not to be used sarcastically – just to make sure the other party feels heard and understood. If the comment was nasty, they’ll usually walk it back if your delivery is neutral).
- I really appreciate you being willing to meet with me.
- Let’s take a break from the conversation and pick it up another day when we’re both calmer.
- I can understand why you’re upset (then restate and summarize the situation from their perspective).
- What’s one thing I could do to make this situation better from this point forward?
- I can do better.
- I really do care about your child.
- I’m not sure we can handle this on our own. Maybe we should find someone who can mediate for us.
- I understand your perspective. You said ___________________. Can I tell you my side of the story?
- I cannot give you what you really want, but here are some ideas I have for compromise…
- Our campus has some rules and policies, and I do a really good job of adhering to those, so I can be fair to everyone.
Worried about stopping a classroom bully? I got you, teach!
Be sure to study up on some conflict resolution strategies. I like this list from Getting People Right.
Be empathetic and solutions-oriented as you deal with angry parents.
You can’t get to problem solving unless both parties feel heard and understood. As a teacher, it’s natural to want to push past the discomfort of conflict and offer a solution. You may also know the solution is that the parent needs to just get over it, because your policy (and implementation) were standard for your campus.
Make sure you leave enough time for the parent or guardian to vent and explain their perspective. Don’t rush to the end of the conversation, because it won’t save you time in the long run. Putting in an extra ten minutes at the start of the meeting will save you follow up meetings and more involvement from the administration team. Doing it right the first time is key.
Being empathetic often sounds like a bunch of non-committal acknowledgements like “Oh,” and “I see,” and “Mmmm-hmm.” This gives the person time to just let it all out. You don’t have to take their hurtful words to heart. Stay focused on the end game. The parent or other guardian will be more open minded to resolution if you didn’t squash their feelings at the start of the conference.
Learn to apologize and make amends if needed.
If you screwed up, being honest and open-hearted is the quickest and least painful way to move forward.
For example: “I heard you say that my tone and the words I said were too harsh. I made your son cry, and now he thinks I don’t like him. You’re worried that I’m not the right teacher for him because I don’t have the patience required of a kindergarten teacher. Is that what you meant?”
If she sticks to her guns and agrees with your summary, you can proceed like this (assuming you feel this way): “I felt bad about both my tone and the words I used as soon as I said them. I really care a lot about your son, and it bothers me a lot to know that I ruined his day. Truthfully, I was having a pretty hard day myself, but I feel bad about taking it out on him. He didn’t deserve that.
After you’ve issued a heartfelt apology, offer to make amends in whatever way possible. An apology to a child can go a long way toward repairing the student-teacher relationship, and is also a great model for kids to follow. If we want to teach humility, we can have show it ourselves.
Here are 12 game changing classroom behavior management strategies that will help you (written by a current teacher).
If you’re really stressed out about consistently having challenging parent/teacher relationships, it’s likely that this is a growth area for you. Having multiple meetings with angry parents is a sign that you’re struggling to be communicate effectively.
Try to focus on being more proactive and communicating more frequently and in a more positive way with parents. If parents sense that you don’t like their child, they will naturally be defensive or even aggressive toward you.