A Few Easy Ways to Deal with Your Students’ Parents
By NAfME Member Audrey Carballo
Teaching for as many years as I have has given me a perspective on the different types of parents we deal with. All you need to do is Google “teachers encounter different types of parents,” and more than 17 pages of goolicious information comes to the forefront. To give credit where credit is due, each article outlines a type of parent and how to deal with them. That kind of advice is fine for academic subjects where tests are true or false, multiple choice, etc.
As music educators, our assessments are more difficult to quantify and even more cumbersome to explain to a non-musician parent. Throw in the student who is in your classroom as part of their IEP or 504 paperwork, and, truly, the fun begins. I’m going to lump some of the parent categories together and help you navigate through typical parent conference scenarios.
Starting on the Right Note
I always start off every parent conference with some type of compliment about the child. Either they are respectful, they never talk back, they are always well-groomed, they come to class on time and have all their materials—something that shows you do notice their child has good qualities. Remember, underneath it all, the parent is there because they care. It might be a bit misguided, but they have a genuine interest in the welfare of their progeny. It’s a lot easier to talk with someone who has a smile on their face than someone who is frowning. You are setting the tone with your opening statement! Make it a pleasant one. It’s hard to hate a teacher who compliments your child!
The Demanding Parent/“My Child Is the Best Student” Parent
When explaining music assessments to parents, I often get this comment: “He got straight A’s last year!” or “His piano teacher says he’s a genius!” or “He gets straight A’s in everything else; I don’t understand why you don’t give him an A in your class.” Every parent, in every conference must be reminded the child earns the grade they receive. I do not sit on Mount Olympus and throw down grades as thunderbolts to whomever I feel like. Most often, this parent seems ready for a confrontation and is convinced you are the root of the problem, because clearly, their child didn’t have a problem before.
Show evidence you went over the work well ahead of time. This is where a classroom website is helpful. That is irrefutable evidence you made the information available to the student and the parent.
Be prepared to explain your rubric and how grades were assessed. Paper tests are easier to clarify, but prepare examples of playing tests (and the written score as well) to show what an A, B, C, D and F grade would be.
I always ask the child to be present at the conferences as well. Sometimes, what the child says to the parent is nothing close to what you said during class. If it is a playing test, I ask the student to replay the test in front of the parent. This way, the parent can see and hear exactly what their child did well and needs to improve on.
Each year’s work is different from the year before. Just because your child got an A last year, doesn’t guarantee the same grade this year. Obviously, the work gets more difficult, and new objectives are introduced. Their private teacher’s opinion doesn’t have any bearing on what they are learning in your class. Their private instructor might not even have a music degree!!
As for his grades in music lining up with his other grades—not every child does well in every subject. There will be times when even the most precocious child gets stumped at a musical concept—or they are either too lazy or too preoccupied with their other subjects to devote the practice time necessary to do well on their tests. If there is a child who needs improvement or is failing your class, be proactive about contacting the parent. Follow your district’s contract about parent communication/notification of unsatisfactory grades. Don’t assume just because it’s music, they won’t care. I’ve been demonized because a child received a B for music, which kept their child off the Principal’s Honor Roll. The parent actually asked me to change the grade so their child could receive the certificate!!!
The “It’s Not My Child’s Fault” Parent
The “It’s not my child’s fault/My child is so busy doing other activities, he didn’t have time” parent is one of my favorites. This category also includes the parents who either bring their child late to school or pick them up early from school. In either case, they miss part or all of your class.
While in my school district, early dismissal is an excused absence, that does not mean the child is excused from the assignments given that day. In a typical nine-week grading period, if I see a child has three absences (this would equate to being absent a third of the class meetings for a grading period), I immediately write the parent an email and copy the homeroom teacher as well. I inquire if there is a true medical emergency why Susie hasn’t been in my Friday afternoon class for the past three consecutive Friday afternoons. I explain (in my district) music is required at the elementary level and carries just as much weight as math and language arts. I go on to say their child needs to make up work they have missed.
The other scenerio is when parents apologize for their child’s work. I remind them that it is the child’s responsibility, not theirs. And, taking responsibility and ownership for their actions is a hallmark of being mature and becoming a young adult. When parents tell me their child is involved in so many other activities outside of school, I ask them to prioritize what is important. If they value their child’s soccer game more than their music grade, the grade will be commensurate with the amount of effort given and the emphasis placed by the parent. Generally, if the parent doesn’t care, the child won’t either.
The Angry Parents
Yes, the last one is crazy parents! Sad to say, but we’ve all seen the stories of what happens at kids’ sporting events when a parent goes cray-cray. It’s not pretty at all. While I get that parents have an inherent instinct to protect their child, the trend in behaviors we’ve seen crosses the line on so many different levels.
Vince Lombardi has been credited as saying, “The best defense is a good offense.” When an angry parent comes to see you, have your evidence ready. Stand your ground. Do not be intimidated. If the issue involves behavior, make sure you have followed your school and/or district guidelines for disciplinary actions. If it is an academic issue, have the evidence to back up your evaluation.
Do not get sucked into an argument. You are the professional. You are the professional. You are the professional. When you remain calm, the situation often diffuses because the parent has no anger to feed off. If the parent says they’ve left you eight messages and you never called them back, calmly state you received one message (or be truthful about the number you did receive), and then tell them the number of attempts to call them back, send an e-mail, etc. . . . You tried.
Some parents will threaten to go to the principal, regional office, or district and “tell on you.” I encourage them to. I say this will give me a chance to say my side of the story to a fair and impartial party. Threats don’t work with me, and you shouldn’t kowtow to them either. No one can “have you fired.” That is a scare tactic. Remain calm and continue to quietly repeat the facts of the child’s grade and how the evaluation was done. If a stalemate is reached, advise the parent that you and they cannot seem to agree on moving forward, and that you are willing to have a follow up conference with your principal regarding this same matter.
Thank them—Yes! Thank them for coming in, and then contact your principal. Document, document, DOCUMENT everything that was said during the conference. Send an e-mail to the child’s other teachers. More than likely, the child is having problems in their classes too.
Final Words of Wisdom
In any parent teacher conference, NEVER allow a parent to disrespect you, yell or scream at you, curse at you or make unfounded or inappropriate insinuations concerning you, your classroom management, or your teaching credentials. I have had to walk out of a few parent conferences when they became abusive. I was respectful and warned that if they didn’t refrain from what they were doing, I would end the conversation. When the abuse continued, I calmly got up and said, “This conference has ended,” and walked to the office. I figured if the parent was going to follow me and continue, I wanted witnesses. At the very least, the instances were reported to my administration in writing.
You are a professional, and with that comes a measure of respect, which you are certainly to be afforded. Any additional time that particular parent wished to speak with me, I made sure an administrator (not even just another teacher) was present. I didn’t even communicate over the phone. When I was called, I sent an e-mail stating I would meet with them at a mutually convenient time for them, myself, and a member of my administrative team. Do NOT allow yourself to be put in any kind of position which is abusive either verbally or physically.
About the author:
Audrey Carballo, a 36-year NAfME member, is in her 36th 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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