EP12: Are you feeling discouraged by a parent who seems impossible to please? You can develop a realistic, productive outlook on relationships with students’ parents. Learn how to maintain a professional and positive attitude and keep criticism from stealing your motivation.
This post is based on the latest episode of my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is essentially a talk radio show that you can listen to online or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead. Learn more about the podcast, view blog posts for all past episodes, or subscribe in iTunes to get new episodes right away.
First off, I want you to know that this is not an unusual situation, and I wish I had known that at the beginning of my teaching career. It took me many years to come to terms with the fact that there will be some people in life that are just not going to like me or be happy with my work. Sometimes it’s a personality conflict, and sometimes the person has their own issues that they’re projecting onto others.
Almost every year, I had a parent who seemed determined to find fault with my performance, and I used to find it extremely demoralizing. I would beat myself up about it, thinking if only I was a better teacher, all the parents would like me. And that is not how the world works.
Not everyone is going to like you. That’s a completely unreasonable and unachievable goal. And I’m not even sure it’s one worth striving for– getting all your students’ parents to respect you as a professional, yes, but getting them all to like you? Not going to happen.
Almost every teacher has at least one parent every year who cusses them out, micromanages and constantly questions them, goes over their head to the principal about a minor issue, or disrespects them in a myriad of subtle or not-so-subtle ways. Be mentally prepared for that and don’t take it personally! This happens to almost about EVERY teacher, whether or not they tell the world about it. I promise you that.
I am friends with some of the best teachers in this country– people who give 110% for their kids and parents, true innovators who care deeply and go above and beyond in every area– and I still get tearful voicemail and Voxer messages from them after they’ve gotten a nasty parent email or were called into the principal’s office because a parent criticized them publicly for a tiny misunderstanding. This happens. Whenever you are dealing with other people, there are going to be miscommun-ications and not everyone is going to see eye-to-eye. It happens in every profession, in every social situation, and in every family.
So, don’t let these situations surprise you or throw you off your game. For the most part, it’s normal. Now, if you seem to be getting more than your fair share of complaints every school year, then it’s time to take a look at that, and get a colleague you trust to give you some honest feedback about why relationships with parents have been so tough for you and how you can improve. This is especially important if you’re getting the same complaints from multiple parents across multiple years– that’s a sign that you may need to either change something you’re doing, or change the way you’re communicating it to other people so they have a better understanding up front of what you’re doing and why.
However, for our purposes here in this episode about mentally coping with parents who don’t like you, I want to drive home the importance of accepting the fact that some parents are never going to be your fans so that you don’t get so discouraged that you stop trying to build a rapport with everyone else. Don’t punish all the other parents because one or two of them are impossible to please. You must choose not to let a handful of parents steal your joy and enthusiasm for teaching, because there are many other families depending on you.
Giving up on parent outreach because one or two parents are overly critical is like giving up on a lesson because one or two students are being disrespectful. You’ve got to keep your focus on the people who are appreciative of what you’re doing. Train yourself to notice and celebrate the kids and parents who are cooperative. Keep those thank-you notes and compliments running through your mind when you get discouraged. Remind yourself, I am making a difference. My efforts are important, and they are appreciated by many people whether they express that to me on a daily basis or not.
If you don’t make a conscious effort to focus on the positive interactions and accomplishments, you will become discouraged and bitter. And that is going to show through in your tone and body language when you’re talking with that parent.
Have you ever tried to approach someone with a perfectly innocent question and before you can even get your thought out, you see they’re giving you a crazy attitude? Arms crossed, defensive posture, raised eyebrows … and you can just tell from the tone of their voice that they are already mentally and emotionally shut down, completely unreceptive to whatever you’re going to say?
You can easily become that person after a string of negative interactions with a parent. We lie awake at night replaying the conversations over and over in our head, and rehearsing all these things we wish we’d said and we’re determined to say next time. We tell the story about the conflict to all our friends, family members, and colleagues. We dwell on the negative interactions so much that all our future interactions with that parent are colored by it.
It’s almost impossible to be receptive or even neutral to the parent after constantly thinking and talking about all the ways she or he has made your life miserable. You can never rebuild the relationship as long as you’re harboring a negative, defensive attitude, and the parent is only going to find MORE fault with what you do.
I’m speaking from experience here. Don’t let that root of bitterness form in your mind, my friend, because you’re the one who’s going to suffer. It’s your motivation level that’s going to crash. Don’t do that to yourself.
Tell yourself, I am not going to mentally replay that conversation over and over in my head. It’s in the past and I’m moving forward. I am choosing to start each day fresh.
Use that train of thought as a motivator so you have the energy to keep reaching out to your most challenging parents. You don’t give up on your students, and you can’t give up on their parents, either. You are the professional, you are capable of taking the high road even when they don’t, and even though it’s hard in the moment, you will feel so much better afterward when you don’t allow yourself to be dragged down by reacting to someone else’s issues.
You always want to look back at the end of the school year and know that you truly gave your all, and feel confident that any rifts in the relationship did not stem from a lack of effort on your part. Keep doing everything in your power to make all your students’ parents feel like an integral part of their kids’ learning process.
Stop replaying the negative interactions and stay focused on the parents who are appreciative. Recognize that conflicts with parents are very normal, and it’s okay if a parent doesn’t like you. Make it your goal to earn the RESPECT of all your students’ parents, and you do that by acting respectfully and with dignity. Take care of yourself. Don’t sacrifice your health and sanity over a parent you will probably never have to deal with again once summer comes. Be kind to unkind people– they need it the most.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!
Next week: How to be unshakeable in your enthusiasm for teaching
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