A Tale of 2 Parents: Which One Are You?
After teaching in a high school for more than a decade, I met thousands of parents at parent-teacher conferences. As I think back, two particular meetings with parents really stood out to me.
Megan was a student that struggled to turn assignments in on time, but she had a very nice presence in class. Going into parent teacher conferences I was really looking forward to meeting her parents and working with them to help improve Megan’s performance.
After introducing ourselves, I explained to Megan’s parents her current situation in class, and proposed some organization strategies that I believed would help Megan organize her papers and use her planner more effectively.
Then, I asked her parents if they had any suggestions or questions. Megan’s mom was very frustrated with Megan’s performance and said that she wanted more regular feedback (more than the 1-2 emails per week I was sending) on when assignments weren’t turned in. In fact, Megan’s mom wanted daily emails from me!
My first thought was “You want me to email you daily?! You do know I am responsible for over 120 students, right?!” Instead, I explained to Megan’s mom that she could look at my online grade book at any time and see which assignments are missing and when the due date was.
However, Megan’s mom did not find this solution as satisfactory. She continued to push for daily emails from me informing her of what was covered in class, what assignments had been assigned, along with phone calls when assignments were not turned in on time.
So, I offered one more alternative to Megan’s mom that she could email me as often as desired and I would do my best to respond within 24 hours and explained to her that was the best that I could do.
Megan’s mom reluctantly agreed to this, walked away clearly disappointed, and left me frustrated with the implication that I was not doing enough to support Megan. From that day forward, every time I worked with Megan in class I had a pit in my stomach thinking about the unreasonable expectations that Megan’s mom was placing on me. I never let Megan see that frustration in me, but it was there.
Later on that evening of parent-teacher conferences I met with Patrick’s mom. Patrick had a similar performance pattern as Megan. Eventually, in the conversation, Patrick’s mom asked me if I could email her on a daily basis to keep her informed of Patrick’s progress.
My heart sank… I thought, “Oh no, here we go again; just like with Megan’s mom”.
I gave Patrick’s mom the same alternative suggestion of viewing my grade book and emailing me as much as she liked.
To my delight, Patrick’s mom responded with, “Sure, I can do that.”
For obvious reasons, I much preferred the interaction that I had with Patrick’s mom versus Megan’s mom. However, what I wasn’t prepared for were the feelings that I had a week later…
I never did hear from Megan’s mom (although I did continue with my 1-2 emails per week), but I did hear from Patrick’s mom 2-3 times per week via email.
I really appreciated Patrick’s mom understanding the nature of my request and following through with her commitment. It really helped me have a positive attitude every time I communicated with her, which actually led me to thinking about communicating with her more frequently.
Meanwhile, I still had negative feelings harboring around my conversation with Megan’s mom, and the fact that she never emailed me made me wonder how much she valued the other emails I was still sending her.
Although I kept my feelings hidden from both Megan and Patrick, it was remarkable how these students’ situations were similar, yet my desire to provide Patrick’s mom with feedback came much more naturally.
My grandmother always used to say, “You can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Basically, if you want more feedback or fruitful communication with your child’s teacher, do what you can to accommodate their desired communication preferences. If you don’t know what their communication preferences are, just ask!
I always told parents they could email me as frequently as they wished, but your child’s teachers may have different preferences. So ask the teacher at the beginning of the term if they are okay with your intended communication pattern before you implement it.
If you can respect the vast number of demands that are currently on your child’s teacher, and work around their constraints and preferences, I think you’ll find that your relationship with them will be very positive and fruitful.
Brian Winter, M.Ed.
Co-Author, SOAR Social-Emotional Learning Skills
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