The Parent Trap
Cultivating Healthy Relationships with Parents of Your Students
By NAfME Member Audrey Carballo
Let’s face it: Without parents, most of us wouldn’t have jobs. We primarily teach children who grow up to be young adults. While they are growing up, their parents are their best, and sometimes worst, advocates. My advice to you:
Stand Your Ground
Teachers spend countless hours planning our lessons and assessments. We agonize over grades that can be subjective due to the nature of the subject we teach. But, when a parent questions a grade or asks for a conference, what do we do?
Head in the Sand
Some teachers take the ostrich approach. Stick your head in the sand. Don’t answer the email or phone call and hope the parent forgets they ever contacted you. Avoid the situation at all costs. This scenario doesn’t work because obviously the parent has gone out of their way to contact you with an inquiry. You are the teacher; they have a right to question the grade that their child earned.
If I had a dime for every time I heard a parent say, “Why did you give my child that grade?” I would be able to buy a small Caribbean island by now. No, I didn’t give your child that grade—they earned it. Parents still believe we arbitrarily assign grades! Don’t run from the communication—embrace it. This is your chance to educate the parent about what their child is being held accountable for in your classroom.
If at all possible, ask them to come in for a conference. Show them the music or ask little Susie or Jose to play the passage they got wrong. Parents think that if the child is playing at home, they are playing correctly. We know that’s often not the case at all. Unless someone knows how to read music and is sitting with the child, they are virtually clueless.
I’ve also had parents lie and swear to me that their child plays or practices every day—yet, they can’t make it through three measures without serious mistakes. Let them hear the proof for themselves. Play it correctly for the parents after the child has played. They’ll notice the difference.
If the test or assessment isn’t playing based, show them their child’s paper. Do NOT ever show them any other student’s paper. This violates other student’s privacy. Besides, it is not anyone else’s business what another child got on the test. If the parent starts saying that they spoke to other students about their grades, blah, blah, blah—stop them right there. Tell them you are there to speak to them only about their child, not about anyone else’s child. This is a diversionary tactic parents use to try to get you to sympathize with them and change the grade because there’s an overwhelming number on “their side.”
The “Yes” Man
Some teachers want to avoid conflict at all costs and are willing to change a grade even when they know it’s not the right thing to do. I have changed grades before. Some were mistakes on my part; some were when a child turned in makeup work and I forgot to notate it in the grade book. We’re all human, but just to acquiesce because a parent demands it is not only unethical for you as a teacher, but it cheapens the grades the other students earned legitimately.
There are helicopter parents who will call you on each and every grade you put in the book. Never forget—that’s your grade book, not theirs. When you sat down and did your lesson plans and assessment, you made a judgement. Stick to it; don’t let a parent wear you down!
I recently had a parent argue with me (and they got quite nasty about it) over a grade. I substantiated the grade. I had the evidence that I contacted the parent long before the report card went home. What was the parent upset about? The grade? No, they were upset that because of the grade I gave their child, they couldn’t be on the honor roll. Where is the focus here? The grade or the fact that they don’t have a piece of paper from the first grading period saying the student was on the honor roll?
Where there is no culpability, there is no responsibility.
The Age of Entitlement
As a parent myself, it is a natural thing for me to want to give my children more than what I have. But when that giving equates to a sense of entitlement, the message is distorted and permeates all other judgement the parent has.
We recently caught a child cheating on a test. The child was told they have an “F,” and the parent was called. The parent insisted that their child was merely trying to get a better grade. We need a new word for audacity. When the teacher refused to change the grade, the parent insisted on a meeting with the Assistant Principal and the Principal and even went so far as to threaten to take her case to the District level. Where there is no culpability, there is no responsibility.
I am not without feeling. I give my students plenty of chances. More than they deserve, but enough so that when a parent questions the outcome, I have tons of documentation where I have given the child the chance to 1) finish the assignment; 2) make up the assignment; 3) get any work they missed from my website; 4) ask me either in person or via email about any work they missed. I afford them so many avenues, they have no defense. If there is a special circumstance, i.e., the child just moved to a new home, a recent divorce, death or illness in the family or another trauma the child is going through, then of course I’ll extend any deadline.
As much as possible, I insist the child be present for the conference. We don’t always know what Sammy has told his parents at home. I like them to be present so we don’t get a “he said/she said” confrontation. Overwhelmingly (and understandably) the parent will always stick up for their child. When the child is at the conference and can say what actually happened, then things take a different turn. If they haven’t been altogether truthful, you can point that out right then.
No matter what the conference is about, there is always something positive you can say about the child. Even something like they are always neatly dressed or they are polite and have never been disrespectful. Every parent wants to hear something nice about their child.
In the county I teach, no principal can force you to change a grade. They (the principal) can change the grade but they have to fill out paperwork justifying it and it cannot be any kind of slur against you or how you assessed the child’s work. If you truly believe you have examined your assessment of the child’s grade and found it to be fair and equitable, don’t back down. At the end of the day, it’s your head that goes on the pillow. It’s your conscience you need to be at peace with.
About the author:
This fall, Audrey Carballo, a 35-year NAfME member, will begin her 35th year as a music educator for the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system, the fourth largest school system in the country. Her teaching experiences include general music, exploratory music, and chorus to regular and exceptional students in elementary, middle school, high school, and exceptional student settings.
She has been an Assessor for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and currently serves on the National Education Association Member Advisory Board Panel and as the Union Steward and Chairperson of the Educational Excellence School Advisory Board Council at her school. Recently, Audrey was the Children’s Choir Director for the Miami Music Project, which is an El Sistema program spearheaded by the world renowned conductor, James Judd.
One of her most rewarding experiences has been with the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. In addition to teaching Broadcast Journalism classes, and giving private lessons in voice, composition, theory and piano, her duties included being the Vocal and Advanced Theory instructor for their Better Chance Music Production Program. Audrey was one of the co-authors of an article published in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness titled, “A New Synthesis of Sound and Tactile Music Code Instruction: Implementation Issues of a Pilot Online Braille Music Curriculum.”
Audrey collaborated with Jin Ho Choi (another instructor at the Lighthouse) for nine months, creating their Braille Music Distance Learning course.
Follow Audrey on Twitter @scarlettfeenix.
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