Are Your Colleagues Telling You What to Do?

Nosy teacher blog

This is truly a sticky situation!  Your colleagues want to help…or do they?  You may be finding, if you are a novice teacher, that there is an abundance of advice out there that’s yours for the taking–whether you want it or not.  Advice from your colleagues can be both a blessing and a curse.  It’s great to have a heads up before that first fire drill, or before your first teacher evaluation.  It’s not so great to be told that your room is a mess or your students need more fun activities.

It’s especially upsetting when you are already self-critical.  Some of these well-meaning colleagues are only adding to the stress you are already experiencing.  Even though you may welcome suggestions, there is often a blurred line between helping and hindering.

Helpful comments are those which spare you angst in the long run.  They save you from disaster or pull you back from the edge of the precipice.  The ones you would like to avoid are those that demoralize or make you feel inadequate.  In either case, what should you do with all the advice you are certain to receive?

1.  Thank the person who is giving you the advice.  At the very least, they have taken time from their day to deliver it.

2.  Immediately categorize it under one of these headings:  “Helpful”, “Hurtful”,  or

3.  Ask yourself this question–Will acting on this advice alleviate or add to my stress?  

4.  Once you’ve answered #3, either act on the advice or dismiss it.  If you cannot decide whether the suggestion will help you in the future, make note of it on paper and save it for later reference.

5.  Go on about the business of teaching.  You have the credentials and training.  You have the right to make your own decisions about your classroom, unless of course the “advice” is coming from an administrator.

6.  If “Betty” from next door continues to bedevil you with not-so-subtle hints that you are not doing things properly, decide upon a mantra that you will stick with whenever she comes to you with yet another critique of your work.  For example:

Betty:  Mrs. Barnes, did you know that you have three posters hanging crooked on your wall?  Mrs. Barnes:  Thank you very much!

Betty:  Mrs. Barnes, you need to know that three of your students have been consistently playing on the teeter-totter every recess for the past three days.  Mrs. Barnes:  Thank you very much!

Betty:  Mrs. Barnes, the previous 6th grade teacher used to send out a note every week to every parent detailing the progress the students were making in math.  She included five samples of math homework and even sent out extra credit work on Fridays so that her students could practice math problems over the weekend.  Mrs. Barnes:  Thank you very much!

If the helpful teacher is the least bit discerning, she may get the idea that you are not going to engage in these conversations.  You have thanked her, and you have made note of it. Now you can go back to your work.  If you think the idea is a good one, record it.  If not, or if you know there is no way you can act on the suggestion, dismiss it.  It can wait until next year.

Be sure to smile and then let it roll off your back.  YOU DON’T HAVE TIME FOR ACTIVITIES/PROJECTS/DECORATING/BUSY WORK THAT STRESSES YOU OUT AND TAKES AWAY FROM WHAT YOU ARE TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH.  Believe me, you will have approximately 35 more years to perfect your skills!

Some day you will look back on these days and smile.  And hopefully, you will be able to bite your tongue when you see a novice teacher’s posters all hanging crooked!  Twenty years from now, it won’t even matter…

When the Parent-Teacher Conference Goes South!

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!

Conducting the Parent/Teacher Conference

Mother with a small kid meeting a teacher, vector cartoon

If you read my previous post here, you should have all your materials prepared in advance of the day of conferences.  If you’ve waited until the last minute, be sure to have at least something to give the parents–perhaps my teacher checklist here if you teach in the elementary grades.  This form can be altered for junior high students, but it really doesn’t apply to the high school environment.

When you are ready to actually conduct the conference, here’s what you need to do IN THIS ORDER:

  1. Greet the parent(s)–If you are seated, stand up and extend your hand.  If you must walk to your classroom door, invite them in with a smile on your face–even if you know it will be a difficult conference, control the urge to let it show on your face!
  2. Invite the parent to sit down.  Traditionally it is suggested that you do not conduct a conference at your desk and that it should take place in a neutral zone such as a classroom table.  Nevertheless, I have never held to that rule.  Who made the rule?  I don’t know.  I have generally met at my desk where all my supplies are.  It makes sense to me.  You can do as you wish and I doubt that it will change anything.  I have been on both sides of the “desk” as both parent and teacher.  It has made no difference to me where we have met.
  3. BE PREPARED WITH YOUR MATERIALS.  You should have the schedule right before you, and the file (elementary) or the handouts (junior high/high school) that you are going to share with the parents.
  4. Begin on a positive note.  Decide ahead of time three positive things you are going to say about “Junior.”  I remember my first year saying, “I enjoy having XXXX in class!” His mother looked at my doubtfully and said, “No one has said that to me since second grade.”  I was the 6th grade teacher.  Junior’s parent may be frustrated and discouraged if all she/he ever hears is how he doesn’t measure up.  Go with mercy and grace in this situation!
  5. Gently and with mercy deliver your information.  If the student is outstanding…wonderful!  The parent will be encouraged.  If the student is a challenge…tread carefully.  I have learned that to give a student a D is like pinning a note to the parent’s shirt that reads “I got a D in reading.”  Provide documentation of any areas a student is struggling in.  Do not give vague generalities such as “Junior is having trouble with reading.”  What do you mean, exactly?  Show papers that Junior has completed.  Provide evidence that the parents can take home and review.
  6. Quickly follow up with what YOU–THE PAID PROFESSIONAL–are going to do about it.  Give concrete steps–at least three.  Example:  Junior seems to have difficulty with multiplication facts.  Here are some things I AM PLANNING TO DO AS HIS TEACHER.”  a.  I will give him a quick one minute speed drill three days a week.  b.  I will monitor and record his success on this paper. (show paper) c.  I will contact you in two weeks to let you know how he is progressing.  Do not put the responsibility of “fixing” Junior’s math problem on the parents.  They may be willing to help you or support you in your work, but likely they are not going to fix it at home.
  7. Let the parent express their concerns.  Everyone wants a chance to be heard.  Lend a listening ear.
  8. Give the parent HOPE.  You’ve got this!  You’re with Junior every day of the week.  Agree upon an action plan.  Make notes during the conference and then follow through.
  9. STAND UP WHEN YOU ARE FINISHED.  If you do not make the first move, the parent may not either.  You might run over the conference time by 10 minutes or more. Then everyone is out-of-whack and tempers flare.  If more time is needed, offer to schedule an additional conference at a later date.
  10. Give parents all documents you wish them to have and walk them to the door if appropriate.  Thank them for coming and move on to the next conference.

For your reassurance, most conferences go well.  In the event that a parent is a ne’er-do-well, then you go to plan B which will follow in the next blog, “WHEN THE PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCE GOES SOUTH!”