Working as a classroom teacher means wearing a hundred different hats in a single day. You're tasked with being the master of your content area and the tireless cheerleader for those students who are, shall we say, less enthusiastic. At the end of the day, not only do you face stacks of grading and planning, but also phone calls, emails, and conferences with a group that can be hard to please: parents.
While parental involvement is, in theory, a great way for adults to get on the same page about a child's education, the reality is that many parents come to the classroom with unrealistic expectations, especially with recent national efforts to increase rigor in the STEM classroom. So, how do great teachers manage parents' expectations, while still being respectful and solution-focused?
When talking with parents who lay on the pressure to see higher grades, it's important to have a good selection of individual student data to present. Let parents know that you hear and share their concerns about their student's progress, but be ready to point to data that shows the reality of their child's performance. Often, parents fear that their child's grades are based on intangible factors, like personality or behavior. Being able to point to student work and the rubrics you use to measure achievement can help parents get a clearer sense of where their child is experiencing difficulty. You can also use data to indicate student strengths, which can help soothe panicking parents who are worried that their child is totally falling behind.
Focus on Next Steps
Once you've articulated the reasons behind their child's grades, you can begin shifting the conversation to next steps. Identify and articulate some of the steps that student and parent can take to help the student improve. This might mean setting a clear goal, like 100% homework completion. Or, it could mean providing the parent with additional practice materials to use at home to help the student get a leg up. Be clear that you welcome the opportunity to discuss parental concerns, but stress that student improvement will also require greater student effort. In other words, parents shouldn't leave the conversation feeling as if the squeakiest wheel gets the better grade.
Special Needs, Special Solutions
Finally, if you have a student who is continuing to not show any academic progress, you should consider documenting your academic interventions and opening a conversation about getting the student evaluated for additional academic services. Some parents may balk at the suggestion that their child may have a learning or attention disability, but a full evaluation for a student with exceptionalities can ultimately lead to a better educational plan and increased student achievement in the long run.
Working closely with parents can be a productive experience for students who struggle, and using a combination of data and honest communication can help you manage parent expectations while improving the student's chances for academic success.Photo Credit: Fabiana Zonca