When you teach older students and need to call home, you may have this happen:
You - "Hello there. I'm so-and-so's math teacher.
Parent - "What did so-and-so do now?"
Nice right? You are not going to be the person to break someone's heart. That's the plus. Of course, every plus has a minus right? Many parents who have children who are habitual rule breakers are probably at a loss for what to do. Calling home really may not be that effective. Some parents (bless them) may get calls weekly.
First and foremost - be available. How angry do you get when you reach out to someone with a problem/question/concern and they take FOREEEVVVVVVEEERRRRRRR to respond? Make it clear from the beginning what the best way is for parents to reach you (email? text? phone call during planning?). Also make sure parents understand that often you will not be able to respond during school hours - not even during your planning time. Let them know that your first priority is instruction and you usually return calls/texts/emails during a certain time frame each day. Then be sure to stick with it!
Secondly, be aware that they have come from elementary school where kids often had their hands held and parents are used to having a daily/weekly play by play of what is happening. During PTA nights, back to school night a regular conference, etc. consider sharing your expectations of student responsibility versus parent responsibility. It'll help parents see what is expected both from their child and what they are responsible for doing (and not doing) as parents of middle schoolers.
Here are some tips on how to communicate with parents in different situations.
Communicate Postitive Things
- Set aside some time each week (yes, EACH week) to send home 2-3 positive notes/emails or phone calls. It can be something simple like "Sam did great on his math test!" or "Aubrey really worked well during stations today." Parents will really appreciate your effort and they'll know that you are not the type of teacher who'll only contact them when something is wrong. Included in my Behavior, Data, Lesson and Communication Binder Resources are positive notes. Keep some printed out and ready to go each week!
Phone Calls & Emails
- Share something positive first. Yep, even if it means you have to dig deep (like middle of the Earth deep). No parent wants to hear nothing but negative things about their kid.
- Don't bring other students into it. If you mention another student, you are immediately giving that parent a reason to not put any blame on their own kid. If another student was involved, let the student bring that up at home. Simply mention the issue - cheating, talking in class, cell phones, etc. Don't say who they were cheating off of, copying from or talking to.
- Don't swear. No brainer right? Nah, not exactly. It is SO hard to bite our tongues when met with resistance. SO hard. You have to - bite hard.
- Remember you are the adult. Students in the middle grades can be SOOOOO difficult. You probably have days where a certain student makes you want to ball up your fists, scream and stomp away. Don't let those feelings show through. Be firm and be professional. Save the screaming and stomping for later!
- Emails - Don't respond to combative emails. Forward them to an administrator. Remember, something in print will stay in print forever. Do not type something that could come back and bite you one day.
- Use the buddy system. Never have a conference alone. Bring a teammate, administrator, aide, anyone! The purpose is not to gang up on the parents but to offer a wide variety of perspectives. If the issue is negative, consider bringing in a teacher who does NOT have the same issues from the student. It may offer a great opportunity for that teacher to give suggestions to both you and the parents.
- Be prepared. Have copies of work, save the note they passed in class, show your discipline record. Jot down some talking points (points #1 and the last point should be positive) so the conference has direction.
- Give advice. Middle schoolers are a strange breed and we know them best. Even if you don't have middle school aged children of their own, you know their tendencies and can offer suggestions for the parents on how to best reach them / help them / encourage them at home. Be open to going above and beyond your role as "just the teacher".
- Ask for their suggestions. Don't say "I have no idea what to do with him/her." Even if that's true (and we know it is sometimes) share the interventions you've tried. Ask what works at home. What doesn't work at home? Show that you are looking for solutions and you haven't just given up.
- Take notes!
- Don't swear.
- Don't return aggression. You may want to, but don't.
- Don't start bringing down their kid.
- If a parent is getting verbally abusive on the phone, tell them that you will not be spoken to that way and will be happy to speak to them with an administrator. CLICK.
- Bring in administration. The end.
If all else fails, go home, have an adult beverage and try again tomorrow!