Family & Education

How teachers cope with tricky parents

Controlling a class may be challenge enough - but then come the parents


New teachers are trained on how to control a class and manage the behaviour of children. But they will be less prepared for another aspect of their profession — coping with parents.

“The vast majority are a pleasure to deal with and we don’t see them from one parent evening to the next,” said a senior Jewish teacher, Anthony Wolfson, head of Nancy Reuben Primary School in Hendon.

But there is a “very small percentage” of parents who can be difficult, he said in a session at the conference for primary school Jewish studies teachers at the London School of Jewish Studies this week.

Or “challenging,” one of the participants corrected him. “You are not allowed to use the word ‘difficult’.”

While there was clear evidence that parental involvement in a child’s education had a positive impact, Mr Wolfson said, the opposite was true: lack of support hindered it.
Teachers should try to build good relations with parents from the outset, he counselled, but they also needed the empathy and diplomatic skills to respond to a parent who came to them with issues.

“A parent who is distressed about the child really needs to feel they have been listened to without the teacher being defensive,” he said.

It helped to have a “clear picture” of the child’s situation beforehand in case there was anything going on at home they had been unaware of.

One parent threatened to kill me

But there were moments when no amount of homework could prepare staff. “One parent threatened to kill me,” said one participant at the session.

Another recalled the problems experienced by a new teacher who had tried to stamp his authority on a badly behaving class but failed to get the backing of the school’s senior leadership. An “upset and confrontational” parent body had made life difficult for him. “The fact that the teacher made a stand created a rod for his own back,” his colleague reported.

While teachers needed good listening skills, Mr Wolfson said, they had to present a confident face in order not to be walked over. Even if they felt nervous, they should act confident: as the slogan went, “Fake it till you make it.”

Email communication could present a problem because, whereas the tone of a conversation was easier to gauge in a face-to-face meeting, sometimes nuances were lost in an email and the other person “completely got the wrong end of the stick”, he said.

“Never send an email when you’re angry,” he warned, “or reply to an angry email immediately”.

His session was one of 19 offered to 160 teachers, including a delegation from Europe, which ranged from how to teach Rashi with confidence to advice from a chazan on how teachers could look after their voice. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and JFS headteacher Rachel Fink gave keynote addresses.

Humour was always a useful aid to defusing awkward situations, one participant in Mr Wolfson’s session suggested, recalling the example of a colleague at a parents’ evening who was asked, “When are you going to start making your lessons more exciting?”

The teacher replied, “Which bit of my sense of humour does your child not enjoy?” 

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive