“I’ve been an ESL teacher for several years, but this year, I will be teaching children for the first time. I feel confident in my ability to teach young learners, but I have zero experience in dealing with parents, and the thought of talking to them fills me with anxiety. I’d appreciate some tips!” *
Students’ parents should never be feared. Fear will get you nowhere; however, respect will get you far.
It’s not about being afraid of how they will react to certain situations; the key lies in knowing how and when to communicate certain things. So, if the thought of talking to your students’ parents paralyzes you with fear, stop this fear dead in its tracks and replace it instead with strategies you can use in different parent-teacher scenarios.
Learn How to Deal with the Parents: 4 Scenarios – 4 Strategies
Scenario 1 - The Language Issue
You want to talk to one of your students’ parents to offer some recommendations for things the child can do at home that will help him/her improve listening comprehension. There’s just one little problem. You don’t speak the parents’ native language, and they don’t speak English.
The Strategy: You might be tempted to ask the student to act as interpreter, but this is not a good idea, not because the child might lie or sabotage the interview, but because you’ll want someone who can convey the information in a more objective manner. Also, there are things that need to stay between the teacher and the parents. You’ll need to find someone (preferably another member of the teaching staff) who is bilingual. The important thing to remember in this case is this: don’t let the language barrier become an obstacle when communicating with parents. Don’t let it stop you from setting up a meeting if you feel it’s necessary. Try to get someone to help you instead.
Scenario 2 – The Slow Learner
You have a student who can’t seem to keep up with the rest of the class. He/she is the last one to complete the worksheets and exercises, and does not seem motivated to participate in speaking tasks.
The Strategy: This is something every ESL teacher faces sooner or later. And you will have to talk to the parents about it. The question is: how? First, you must identify exactly what the problem is. Do you suspect there might be a learning disability? Is the student simply too shy? Or do they simply have trouble learning at the current pace (because they have their own pace)? Consider what suggestions, recommendation and tips you will give the parents to help their child improve. Whatever the reason is for the students’ difficulties, be clear on what it is and what you’ll need to communicate to the parents in terms of steps to follow.
During the meeting, try to avoid negative statements with “can’t”,“won’t”, or “doesn’t”, and don’t ever refer to the student as “slow”, “unmotivated” or “problematic”. Always start the meeting by accentuating the positives: the student has “good potential”, “rich vocabulary”, is a “good speller”, anything and everything that the student is good at. Finally, talk about the problem areas but phrase them as areas that “need improvement”, instead of “problems”. Use statements like: the student “would benefit from”, “needs to reinforce/practice/work on”, etc… Give the parents an action plan and your recommendations.
Scenario 3 – The Ill-behaved Student
You have a student who does nothing but disregard the classroom rules. He/she is disrespectful to classmates, and on occasion throws things or pushes other students. You’ve already given him/her several warnings, but there doesn’t seem to be any change in the child’s behavior. It’s time to notify the parents.
The Strategy: Children who behave this badly in class must be dealt with, and there are cases in which you’ll need to enlist the parents help and support. Firstly, you won’t want to enter the meeting guns blazing and fire off one complaint after another – remember you’re enlisting the parents help, and you won’t get their support if you refer to the child as the devil incarnate. Be sure to start by mentioning some of the child’s positive traits first (there has to be something!) Is the child creative, imaginative? Does the child have a potential that he/she is not capitalizing on because of the constant disruptions? Next, describe the disruptions in detail. Try to come up with solutions together, as a team.
Scenario 4 – The Controlling Parent
A student does badly on a test and gets a low score. The mother blames you for the child’s poor performance, and it doesn’t end there. She accuses you of “playing games all the time”. She ends the tirade by saying that she does not see any progress and that she expected more from the class.
The Strategy: Fortunately, we are not faced with controlling, unreasonable parents like this one on a daily basis, but it could happen. We have parents who are not involved at all, and then parents who are too involved. And the best strategy for dealing with this kind of parent is to prevent this from happening. How do we prevent this? By holding a parent-teacher conference, where you explain exactly the types of activities you’ll do in class and what the main learning goals are for the course. Address parent expectations from the start, and set them straight if they’re too high. When you have nasty confrontations like the one above, you can simply refer back to what was discussed at the start of the course, and offer some suggestions for things the student can do to get back on track.
You can tell from the strategies presented above that communication is key, as is timing.
Treat all parents with respect; understand you’re talking about their babies, and you won’t help the situation if you attack them. Instead of giving them problems, give them tools to help their child, and you might just see your student improve by leaps and bounds.