You open a parent email, and with one click, your entire day is shattered. An onslaught of accusations hurtles through the screen. Assumptions are made. Words are not minced. Tempers, the parent’s, and now yours, flare high. Will this become open warfare?
Here is what you can do to mitigate the situation:
Don’t Answer Immediately
The parent wrote in a moment of anger, and now it’s making you emotional. This is a natural and human reaction, but it also clouds your ability to be professional (which is also perfectly normal). Let the email sit overnight until you’ve had a chance to cool down and had a chance to decompress by discussing it with a trusted teacher friend or significant other. Having this time away from the hurtful words will lessen the sting and allow you to recover composure. This, in turn, will allow you to respond in the most helpful and professional manner.
Remember the Hate Comes from a Place of Love
The line between love and hate is very thin: both emotions come from a very visceral place. The parent is most likely in attack mode because of their protective nature and the love that they feel toward their child. Remembering this will allow you to shift the focus of the conversation back to the best needs of the child. You do not need to be best friends with the parents (in fact, being friends while their child is in your class is highly discouraged), but you do need to be able to communicate respectfully.
Focus on the Real Concerns Behind the Malice
Once you have found a place of calm, and realized that the parent is coming from a place of protectiveness, try to see if you can discern what the parent’s concern is and if there is anything reasonable (even if the way it is expressed is terrible) underlying the email. Try to find work and evidence so you can send the parent concrete evidence of the child’s behavior or learning progress. Be sure not to put too much in writing, and that what you do is factually based (no opinions); an irate parent is already on the defensive and can be triggered by the slightest hint of an opinion. Tone can also be misconstrued in digital communication, so be prudent about what you write. Use your response as an opportunity to reset the conversation, and shift the conversation back to the child’s needs.
Part of being a professional is being treated with respect. Typically, if your response is factual and focused on the student, the angry tone will dissipate. But, if a parent continues to disregard any shred of courtesy due to every living being, it’s important to shield yourself from abuse. When you respond to the parent, honestly report for what steps you have already taken to address the situation if you were aware of the issue. If the parent persists in inappropriate language or tone, continue to be professional, but set boundaries with them. In addition to modeling appropriate ways to communicate about the child, forward the emails to an administrator. If the administration is not responsive, seek a union rep at your school to get support.
Teachers, what is the craziest parent complaint you have ever gotten? How did you work through it?