When the Parent-Teacher Conference Goes South!

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angry parent at conference

Every year I have dreaded it…although sometimes it hasn’t even happened.  Sometimes I can take one look at the parent, and I can tell where the conference is headed.  Other times, it comes without warning like an erupting volcano!  What can happen during a parent-teacher conference that could be unsettling, you ask?  After thirty-plus years of conferencing with parents, I’m guessing that I’ve already had the worst happen.

I don’t want to scare you, but it’s only fair that I warn you about what COULD happen…but what probably WON’T.  Here are the top five ways a parent-teacher conference can go south!

  1. You have done absolutely nothing, but the parent comes in with an axe to grind because they are carrying baggage from THEIR school days.
  2. The parents say their child doesn’t like school (or your class).  And it must be because of YOU, of course.
  3. The parent knows more than you do because…they are an educator, too, OR they have raised seven kids (they are an expert), OR because the last 5th grade teacher did it THIS WAY, so you must not be doing it right.
  4. Your methods are unfair.
  5. You don’t understand Junior’s unique and special needs–He is either gifted or misunderstood and they can fill you in on how to handle the whole situation.

WOW!  Sounds rather frightening, doesn’t it?  The problem is, you don’t know which parent(s) it’s going to be.  Some years, everyone will be pleasant and agreeable.  But in the unfortunate instance that someone becomes hostile, here’s what you do:

  • Try staying calm and just listen to their thoughts.  Reassure the parent that you want the best for their child.  You don’t have to agree with them that you are the worst teacher in the school.
  • Write down their concerns.  They will feel validated.  Then try to come to an agreement about what you can do to address those concerns.
  • Do NOT return harsh words in response to their ill temper.  Stay in control at all times.  If they cannot speak peacefully, STAND UP, then tell them that you wish to continue this conference with an administrator present.  If they refuse to leave, step into the hall where other parents/teachers are present.  Do not continue the conference while they are angry.
  • Call the office if necessary and ask for assistance.

Whatever you do, do not let the ne’er-do-well parent convince you that you are a terrible teacher.  I have cried multiple times over parents who have insulted me.  The problem probably has less to do with you than it does with something else that is going on in their own life at that moment.  It may be a lost job, an ill parent, a stressful marriage, or as I said before…they may simply be carrying baggage from their own school days.

I had a parent begin aggressively with me at a conference, only to break down in tears part of the way through.  I have had a parent who said “I know you never give A’s to anyone in biology!”  That was totally false…a case of mistaken identity, I countered. Sometimes parents are just plain WRONG.  The really hard part of this is that you have to be able to put what the parent has said behind you when you face their child the next day.  Be sure that parents with caustic tongues are likely talking the same way to their children at home. How sad!  You need to be the bright spot in that child’s day!

Whatever the case, rest assured that most parents respect teachers and just want to find out how their children are doing.  Many work outside the home and are tired when they come to conferences (if they are held in the evening).  They just hope to hear something positive.  Remember, “a soft answer turns away wrath.”  Proverbs 15:1

Hope for the best and use your good judgment.  You can handle it!