My whole life I have been in or near a classroom. Both my parents are retired educators. My wife is a current educator (thoughts and prayers). A lot of my friends are educators. I am a former educator. So when I tell you I know a thing or two about teachers and education, I promise it’s not lip service.
Since I left my teaching career to come work for Teen Life, I’ve found out one thing is crystal clear:
EVERYONE IS SWAMPED AND EMOTIONS ARE HIGH.
When emotions are high, parent-teacher communication can be a minefield leading to really damaging conversations. Below are just a few reminders for teachers AND parents on communicating with each other.
This first part is for the teachers.
Teachers, I know that little Johnny has used up all his tokens of grace. I know that you are being asked to move mountains while juggling chainsaws with a smile. But hear me out.
- REMEMBER THE SECOND BACKPACK – one of my former principals (shoutout Shannon Gauntt) used this metaphor during my career and it is perfect. Every person in that building is coming in with a metaphorical second backpack. It could range anywhere from “I didn’t sleep well last night” to “I haven’t seen my mom in a week because she works the night shift”.
- BE A BEARER OF NOT JUST BAD NEWS – It’s really easy as a teacher to always contact parents when you’re having a behavior issue. Try to balance your conversations with good news and positive interactions as well.
- CONSIDER THE TIMING – Some parents might be at work when you’re calling. Some may have just gotten off of a long shift. If it’s possible, it might be a good idea to set up a time when they can call you or meet with you and be at their best.
- AVOID GETTING EMOTIONAL – This is pretty self explanatory. It’s kind of like on The Office when Roy comes after Jim. It can escalate quickly. But chances are your school does not have a Dwight Schrute in waiting with a can of mace.
Alright, let’s move on to the parents:
Parents, I know that having these conversations is hard, but here are a few tips for successfully navigating difficult conversations.
- REMEMBER TEACHERS HAVE BACKPACKS TOO – These last couple of years have thrown everyone into a learning curve they don’t want to be on. Remember to communicate with patience and understanding.
- THERE ARE ALWAYS TWO SIDES – I have experienced this as a parent and a teacher. Johnny may be giving you correct information but it may not be the full scope of the situation. Before you jump to send a scathing email to the administrators, sometimes a simple phone call or email to the teacher can give you perspective on the incident.
- BE OPEN TO LISTEN – The teacher is with your student more during the day than you and chances are they have a good idea of what they need. It may be hard to hear problematic behaviors about your student but I promise the teachers want what is best for everyone.
- AVOID GETTING EMOTIONAL – Same as the teachers. No one wants to see the Hulk in these scenarios. Everyone is better off talking to Dr. Banner.
This obviously will not fix every parent-teacher interaction but it’s a good starting point.
Most importantly, remember that life is already challenging enough for our teens. Teachers and parents should be the first line of support for them.
If you model good communication with each other, it will help drive their success in school and the future.
For more from Teen Life on School Communication, listen to episode 21 of the Teen Life Podcast: School Communication & Acronyms or episode 39: Athletics & Monetization of YouTube (coming January 25).
Tobin graduated with a Bachelors of Music from Texas Tech University. A teacher’s kid twice over, he taught for 13 years before coming to Teen Life. His entire career has been centered around helping students and teens from all walks of life become the best version of themselves