The dreaded conversation

Here’s one thing parents and teachers have in common: We both get nervous when the other is on the phone.

A call from school: Parents worry that their child is in trouble, is failing, is misbehaving – and that they (the parents) are somehow to blame.

A call from a parent: Teachers worry that the parent will challenge their judgment, ask for special treatment, defend and excuse their child’s actions, question their professionalism.

It’s such a relief when none of the above happens, when it’s just a simple phone conversation between two adults who are aligned, supporting the child.

Last week, I got both an email and a phone call from a parent whose student needs to make up work. The student had already been in to see me, and I had already explained what he could do.

When I saw the parent’s messages, here’s what went through my mind: Oh no, she’s going to question why I won’t let him make up work from October. She’s going to tell me that he needs a better grade for college. She’s going to imply that I’m not doing enough for him.

Thankfully, none of that happened. I’m not crazy to anticipate a stressful call – I’ve had these confrontational conversations with distressed parents in the past. Several times parents have even told me what grade their child “has to have,” creating unrealistic expectations all around.

But when I called this parent back, we had a thoughtful conversation. She had called because she wants her son to get caught up and learn what he needs to learn, and she just wanted to know what she should expect from him.

We calmly discussed the situation, agreed on expectations, and promised to check in again soon. We were immediate allies, and we both thanked each other for the conversation.

Afterward, I felt ridiculous for anticipating a worst-case scenario, but I’m sure I’m not alone. Bad experiences can hijack our rational thought processes and put any of us on the defensive. We need to be aware of this, so we can consciously alter our thinking and expect the best from each other.

Start every parent-teacher conversation with an assumption of good intentions on both sides, and be willing to listen more than we talk. We might not agree on the details, but we probably agree on what matters – that we want our students to be successful.

Note to readers: I will be taking a two-week break from writing. Happy holidays! 

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