It’s true. Sometimes, teachers can be scary.
Look, most teachers are very kind people (I mean, they’ve dedicated their lives to helping children for crying out loud!) but when you have to confront your child’s teacher about a problem, it’s natural to be a bit anxious. And, honestly, there are some not-so-nice teachers out there, too. So how do you approach these difficult conversations?
It takes some masterful people skills, for sure. And the emotions can run high. These are your kids, we’re talking about. But there are specific things you can do before, during and after the conversation to help it be more successful.
BEFORE HAVING THE CONVERSATION
You know there’s a problem but what should you do? First, take some deep breathes and do some gut checks.
Some problems just need more time. Ask yourself, is this one of those problems?
You have every right to stick up for your child. You are not being a “problem parent” or “too needy.” Give yourself a mental pep talk if you are feeling afraid.
Assume best intention. The teacher/administrator is probably not a horrible person who wants to ruin the lives of all children. Remind yourself to look for the good in this person so you can build on that.
Know that many difficult conversations may take awhile to resolve. Energize yourself to be in it for the long haul.
Ok, you’re ready to have that difficult conversation. Sometimes you just need the first step. If so, use these free text or email templates to get started.
OK, IT'S GO TIME.
As you have the conversation, either in person or in texts/emails (and likely both), keep some things in mind.
Your first priority? To understand the teacher’s perspective. The best advice in any difficult situation is to go into it with some curiosity, open to possibilities. You know there’s a problem, of course, but you don’t know everything about this problem. Don’t decide you know what is going on and then only look for evidence that confirms your ideas. Instead, ask questions--like a lot of question--before you start giving your side. This pairs nicely with “assuming best intention.”
Keep the conversation action-orientated not “let’s-agree-on-who-to-blame” orientated. In any difficult conversation you can get lost in trying to prove you’re right and the other person is wrong. Because people don’t like being wrong, everyone gets defensive (including you) and pretty soon you’re just shouting instead of actually trying to solve the problem. Instead, focus on the problem at hand and how each person involved can lead to a solution. After you’ve discussed the problem, say, “At home, I think we’ll try ________ to help this situation. Does that seem reasonable? What do you think would work at school?”
Don’t take it personally. This one is hard! This is your kid we’re talking about! So if it seems like the teacher keeps piling on the blame and telling you things that your kid is doing wrong, remember this teacher doesn’t really know your child. Honestly. They have spent hours with your child. You? You’ve spent years. So let those opinions roll off your back and work on getting to the solution.
Some constraints are fixed and some are not. As you look for a solution, remember that some solutions are just not possible. But that list is shorter than the teacher may think, at first. For example, if your child is struggling under the load of homework from the school, the teacher can’t say--Ah, forget it. We just won’t have homework. But they can lessen the load or modify it or create an alternative. Push yourself to be creative and don’t take the first “no.”
Be kind, polite and relentless. You are doing this to help your child get the education they need and deserve. It's worth it.
PHEWF! THAT CONVERSATION IS OVER.
Don’t forget to say thank you. Ok, best case scenario, the conversation went great and you all left inspired to tackle the problem. It’s easy to say “thank you,” right? But, in the worst case scenario there was a shouting match and you left the school afraid that the teacher would take their anger out on your child. Be the adult in this situation and still send a quick message along the lines of “I’m sorry the conversation didn’t turn out the way I hoped. Thanks for be willing to work on this problem. Let’s try again next week when we can both cool off.”
Start here: Ready to start and end that difficult conversation? Use these free text or email templates in the toolbox.
Challenge: Think your child may need more support or more challenge at school? Read more about Individual Education Plans or IEP's.
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