Every teacher has been there. You check your email/voicemail once more before heading out of the classroom for the day when you get that message. You know, it’s the angry (and often rude) message from a parent accusing you of treating their child unfairly, not explaining a project clearly, taking another student’s side in a disagreement, or any number of a million other situations. Bottom line—they’re angry at you and now you have to figure out how to handle it. While resolving the problem is the most important thing to do in these situations, a few simple actions on your part can help you turn this angry parent into an ally.
1. Keep Your Cool
Perhaps the most important thing to do when responding to an angry parent/guardian is to stay calm. It can be hard to do when you feel attacked, especially if you feel the parent is in the wrong, but firing off a snarky response email or angrily telling a parent you don’t appreciate their tone will only make things worse. If you need to, wait a bit (even five minutes can be enough) until you can respond calmly. Take a breath and remember that even if they are the rudest parent on the planet, in their mind, they’re just a worried mom or dad trying to look out for their child.
2. Remember Your Manners
One of the fastest ways to deescalate an angry parent is to acknowledge their concerns and assure them that you will work with them to find a solution. Regardless of whether your think the parent is right or wrong, thank them for bringing the issue to your attention, assure them that you hear their concern, and state that you are absolutely committed to working together to find a solution. Sometimes, validating someone’s feelings is all the person needs to take a breath and calm down.
3. Admit Your Mistakes
None of us are perfect. If, after listening to the parent, you realize that the mistake was your fault (or partially your fault), don’t be afraid to admit that. Most parents will be satisfied with a sincere apology and a discussion on how you will solve the problem rather than a teacher who refuses to admit they were wrong.
4. Hold Your Ground
That being said, if the student isn’t being honest or if you genuinely believe you were right in your actions, don’t back down simply because the parent/guardian is angry. We are professionals for a reason. We have received the training and education to know what we are doing and why our choices are the educationally best practices in each given situation. Acknowledge that the parent and/or student is upset, express understanding about why the situation is frustrating, but assert that as the classroom teacher, you feel that the reasoning behind your choice is sound. You will have to be prepared to explain why you made the choices you did, but often when a parent hears the sound reasoning behind the actions, they will understand them.
5. Make the Parent Your Teammate
This step is the crucial one. Regardless of who was at fault, inform the parent that you want to move forward from this point as a team. State that you believe firmly that their son or daughter will learn and grow only if you, the student, and the parent(s) work together. If you feel the student is being dishonest about what is going on in class to their parent, tell the parent that you and they must communicate more often so that the student can’t play you against each other. If you feel that the student or parent is blaming you for things that are their responsibility, let them know that you will do your part to communicate what your role is as teacher so that they can do their job as student and as parent. If the student and parent feel you are being unfair, tell them that open communication about why you are making the choices you are making will help them see that you treat all your students fairly and that you are deeply committed to their student’s individual success.
Finally, the best way to avoid an angry parent altogether is to turn them into an ally before they ever become angry. Reach out to parents early in the year. Introduce yourself via email during the first week of school. Let them know that you’re enjoying getting to know their son or daughter and that you’re looking forward to working with them this year. Encourage them to contact you with any concerns or questions and let them know you’ll do the same. By doing so, you’re laying the groundwork for positive communication later on.