For the most part, it’s a misnomer.
99.9% of parents love their children.
They may have a misguided way of showing it.
They may not sign one bit of correspondence from the school.
They may be uninvolved, negligent, or worse.
They may be preoccupied trying to get their own life together.
But few don’t genuinely want what is best for their children.
The key to talking to parents who don’t appear to care is to speak to that part of them that really, really does.
1. Make contact.
The first step is to doggedly pursue making personal contact. Most teachers will try the one or two phone numbers on file, but then give up and send an unreturned email instead.
You must go the extra mile.
You may have to call the company or organization they work for. You may have to call neighbors and cousins and friends of friends. You may have to wait and speak to whoever picks up their child after school.
Whatever it takes to get the parent on the phone is worth doing. It can even be life changing.
Most parents who are difficult to get ahold of are never actually contacted. So when you go out of your way to surprise them at work or through a neighbor they’re typically humbled and over-the-moon appreciative.
2. Treat them with royal respect.
The biggest key to tapping into that part of them that deeply cares about their child’s welfare is to speak to them as if they’ve been voted parent of the year.
Speak to them in the same manner you would a parent who cuts the crusts off the lunch bread and is front and center at every school event. Give them their dignity back.
This affectation of tone and expression is magic. Seldom have they been spoken to with such respect, and in response they’ll rise to meet the subtle call to be worthy of it.
3. Remind them of their responsibility.
Somewhere along the line many teachers have acquired the awful habit of intimating—or outright commanding—parents to do something in response to their call. Many even condescend to make suggestions.
But unless expressly asked, this oversteps your bounds. It puts parents on the defensive. It makes them feel an inch tall and all but guarantees that they won’t speak to their child about your issue.
The most effective approach is to start with something positive and then kindly relay the facts.
“I’m so happy to have your daughter in my class this year. She is outgoing and asks excellent questions. My concern is that she hasn’t been doing her homework . . .”
Be specific but maintain your respectful tone. Never allow your frustration to surface. Before hanging up, add the key line: “The reason I wanted to tell you personally is because I know you’d want to know.”
This is a gentle but powerful reminder of their responsibility. And it hits them directly in the heart. You can hear them sigh and melt on the other end of the line. Most will thank you profusely and request that you keep them posted.
It’s also a good idea to take the opportunity to invite them to your class or tell them about upcoming events.
A Profound Difference
Although it seems like a simple little thing, when you go out of your way to contact wayward parents in a non-judgmental way it almost always makes a profound difference.
They start asking their child about their day. They inquire about behavior and take an interest in homework. They become more responsible.
Combined with your faithful adherence to your classroom management plan, you’ll see a change in their child as sure as the leaves of fall.
The greatest reward, though, is the day they darken your doorway.
They’ll step in eyes wide, tentative and uncertain, at back-to-school night or to volunteer for a field trip.
But once you bound toward them with a smile and a handshake, once they get comfortable getting to know the other parents and children . . .
PS – This past week I wrote an article for The Guardian aimed at new teachers. I hope you’ll check it out.
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