Dealing With Angry Parents

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Hollie Anderton

Hollie is currently an English teacher and Head of Year in North Wales with a degree in Theatre. She trained in Bath Spa University to gain her PGCE and is currently a Network Leader for WomenEd Wales Hollie is the author of the Teacher Toolkit...
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How do you cope with angry parents in school?

Angry parents are always fearful to behold. They seem to call into question your professional integrity and the way you work. Obviously this will bring feelings of anxiety in where they’re not needed. Parents and teachers need to work together to achieve the goal, which is ultimately to do the best they can by their child.

It might be useful to first look at where anger can come from as a parent.

Causes of Calamities

Anger is simply a way of expressing displeasure with a situation or decision. As teachers, we face anger from all angles. From children when they feel frustrated with themselves or others in the classrooms, from our families and friends who don’t quite understand why we are unable to ‘just leave it’, and from ourselves where we are displeased with how a lesson has gone or with test results.

As a parent, this anger comes usually from wanting to protect their child; the one thing that they need to protect by any means necessary. There’s nothing quite like this need that parents feel when it comes to their child, which is why it is imperative that we understand as teachers, how to deal with any sticky confrontations.

So, what can you do? You may feel helpless as a teacher to stand in front of an irate parent who is just not willing to listen to what you have to say. All the time telling yourself in you head that they don’t mean it, it’s not your fault, you are a good teacher. There are things that you can do.

1. Stay Calm

The worst thing that you can do is rise to their level of heightened emotion. Just as screaming at an upset child will get you nowhere, treating a parent the same way is pointless. Listen to what they have to say and take it in. Don’t just stand there quivering or wishing it was over. You need to listen in order to respond, just as you would with a member of your class.

2. Step into their shoes

For all you know, the parent could have ‘a million other things going on in their life’ that they are protecting their child from. You don’t hear about them in class, because the parent has bottled it up so much, that you’re the one facing the brunt of it in a meeting that really shouldn’t be going the way it should. Take a moment to picture the situation that they are in; understand their misconceptions (if there are any) and try to imagine what it’d be like to be in their position.

3. Hold Your Own

Now, please don’t think that I am telling you to stand there and take abuse in your own classroom. You need to assert the fact that you are a professional who has the same concerns about their child as they do. You’re there to achieve the same ends. Be respectful, keep your voice balanced, but make sure that they know that it will not be tolerated. You are not paid to accept confrontation from anyone.

4. Have solutions, not problems

If a parent comes to you with something that they are unhappy with, don’t rebut with a problem of your own. This tends to take us down a slippery slope of he said, she said. We need to remember that we are not the children here. You know your children, every one of them, and you know what the problem is before it arises in most cases. You know that if you ‘tell a certain child off’ for doing something, that their parent will be outside your door at 3.20PM demanding answers. So, think about it, premeditate your answers. Give them a truthful outline of the situation and explain why. If you’ve been fair, then this should be enough (for most).

Pain from Problems

Of course, these tips won’t stop the bodily feelings that you experience when your professional judgement is being called into question, so if you ever feel threatened, please do not hesitate to ask senior colleagues involved. They may feel exactly as you do, but at least you’re not alone. Angry parents can be intimidating, so sometimes a little moral support is necessary.

Finally, remember why you do your job. If you’re on Teacher Toolkit, chances are it’s not because you love data, it’s because you love the kids in your class! So don’t make an enemy, make a partnership.

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