© 2023 by Crystal Frommert, excerpted from the book When Calling Parents Isn’t Your Calling: A Teacher’s Guide to Communicating with Parents. Used with permission of the publisher, Road to Awesome, LLC.
Sometimes, it’s not the parent who is being difficult, but rather the request itself is difficult. While we want to work with parents to meet the needs of the student, some requests are not always best for their child’s educational experience. The following questions have been asked of my colleagues and myself many times from parents. After each request is a suggestion for how to say no firmly but kindly. I have phrased these requests in a cheeky way for humor’s sake. Most of the time these requests are a bit ridiculous, but there are times that these requests are valid due to health, family situations, or other extreme circumstances. Because fair doesn’t mean equal, you can certainly give a student more time on an assignment or another exception because of a family crisis but not give the same extension to another student for a much less serious reason. If a student or parent ever questions the fairness of a request (which I find is rare), I always tell them that another student’s situation is not something I can share.
“Since there are two days left in the grading period, is there anything my child can do to earn extra credit or bring up their average?”
Communicate as early as possible with parents if there is a chance for a student to improve their average. If a parent contacts you about improving a grade with only a few days left in the grading period, you can reiterate to the parents that all of the planned assessments have been completed for the term and offer tips on how their child can get a strong start in the upcoming term.
“My child was up late playing a sport, celebrating his second cousin’s roommate’s graduation, practicing the bassoon, or some other reason why they are unable to take the test you announced weeks ago. Can they take the test scheduled for today at another time?”
Stand firm on this one unless there are extreme extenuating circumstances. Offer to answer any last-minute questions if there is time before school or between classes. Reassure the parent that there have been x number of review days to prepare students for the assessment. If this request comes as an email, you could also reply to it after their child has taken the test, making it a moot point.
“Can my child turn in his work late?” See the above reasons.
Inevitably a student will need to turn in an assignment late now and again. Life happens. To avoid handling this request on a case-by-case basis, I set up a freebie system for daily work in my middle school classes. Each term every student gets an exemption from a daily assignment – no questions asked. They are responsible for practicing the material in time for the next assessment, but they do not have to hand it in. If a parent requests that another assignment during the term be handed in late, then I can have a conversation about why they have missed TWO daily assignments. Parents are less likely to push back when there might be a pattern developing around missed daily work. I taught my students to use their freebie thoughtfully. They should plan ahead for an upcoming late-night event, birthday, or another busy day.
“My child is unable to attend any of the tutorial sessions you offer. Are you available every day after 8 pm or before 7 am to help her with her homework?
Reiterate to the parent which days/times you are available for extra help. If their child has questions outside of the offered times, list out the resources that are available to them such as notes, the textbook, online resources, contacting a classmate, or (if you have the time) make a short video of yourself explaining the concept that they can watch at any time. To avoid this issue altogether, my school’s math department scheduled one math teacher to be on duty every morning and every afternoon for tutorials. If a student had a math question, they could pop in before or after school to ask a question – they may not have been able to see their own math teacher, but at least they could get their question answered.
“I see that my child left her science project on the kitchen table. Can I bring it to school so that she won’t lose credit?
Some schools are clear about not allowing parents to deliver homework and projects to school. There are various reasons for this — one being equity and another being to teach kids responsibility. If your school does not have a policy regarding parents delivering assignments to their children, then it is very difficult to prevent this as an individual teacher. If it is important to you that students are not allowed to accept school day deliveries from parents, there are steps you can take to prevent it.
- Set an expectation at Parent Night that parents are NOT expected to bring forgotten assignments to school. Stress the importance of responsibility and equity in your reasoning. Most parents will be relieved that this is not expected or acceptable.
- Set a rolling due date for major projects. For example, the science project is due the week of Sept 20. This is a smoke and mirrors tactic to hide the fact that the real due date is the Friday of that week but you’ll accept projects starting Monday. (This also makes grading more manageable because projects trickle in over a five-day range.)
- Do not allow a student to call their parents from school to request homework/project delivery. The older students might sneak an email or text to ask their parents to bring an assignment, but you can discourage this by reiterating to students that asking parents to deliver their work promotes inequality and irresponsibility. (They probably won’t care but at least you shared your two cents.)
“My child would prefer to be in Mr. Feeney’s class, or my child needs to be in advanced-level math, or my child prefers to take English in the mornings, can she switch classes?”
Hopefully, your school has a policy regarding how a student places into leveled classes. If this is the case, refer the parent back to the posted policy of requirements. If the class change request is not related to a leveled class, this is something that can be immediately escalated to the administration.
“My child does not get along with Trouble Jones, Jr. Can you make sure they do not socialize together during the school day?”
Kids move in and out of friendships like a Houston driver changes lanes on I–10. One day they are best friends, and the next day they call each other stupid smelly-face. It is ok to ask two students who are having a rough patch to give each other space because, as the educator, you can observe the temperature of their relationship every day. Parents are not close to what’s happening with friendships on the playground at recess. Parents also often only hear one side of the story. Reassure parents that students are closely monitored and that they are taught restorative practices and conflict resolution. Parents might need assurance that mistreatment is never tolerated, but also we want to keep the path clear for a potential repair in their friendship. If a parent is worried about their child being bullied or physically harmed (even if it is an unjustified concern), stay in frequent communication with the concerned parent so they can feel confident that their child is safe and happy at school.
Crystal Frommert, M.Ed, has over 20 years of experience as an educator in middle and high school. Crystal has taught math, computer science and social justice in public, parochial and international schools. Beyond teaching, she has served as an instructional coach, school board member, adjunct college instructor, technology coordinator and assistant head of middle school. She has presented at local, national and international educational conferences on topics ranging from social and emotional learning to technology integration. She is currently a middle school math teacher and administrator in Houston.