When parents are a problem

25th February 2005 at 00:00
Advice for teachers in their early career

Been upset yet by something a parent has said? Teachers, especially new ones, seem to be an easy target and parents can be particularly bold.

At a Catholic school recently, one parent complained about the Tudor topic because it was apparently "teaching them about divorce".

A new teacher, Eeyore2603, on the TES website wrote how she dragged herself into school still upset after a trauma at home. "I told the class that something at home had made me sad and could they be considerate in their behaviour." The children were great but "a parent complained, saying how unprofessional I had been in bringing my personal life into the classroom".

Eeyore2603 was gutted.

There is a school of thought that says you should drop your personal baggage at the classroom door, but most people may think she handled things well.

Tricky situations are a fact of life, not something to take personally. I hope you'll have been shielded from the worst by your head and induction tutor, but as you get more experienced you're expected to handle things alone - and professionally. Assertiveness training is worth considering, even if you just read a book on it. Normally, there are four behaviour choices that you have in dealing with difficult situations:

* Aggressive: giving as good as you get will make the other person angry, resentful, hurt or demoralised. The chances are that you're so well brought up you'll be hopeless at being aggressive - certainly in comparison with some parents for whom it's a practised art!

* Passive: backing down, withdrawing, crying, running away or admitting that you're rubbish. All pretty humiliating and once the word gets around you'll have more parents walking all over you.

* Manipulative: hints, flattery. Some people, especially heads, are very good at this but it takes lots of skill.

* Assertive: calmly repeating the state of things as you see them.

Of all these, assertiveness is usually the most helpful. It's the direct and honest expression of opinions that calls for respect. When you' re assertive, people know where they stand with you, and neither you nor they should get upset. Being aggressive or passive takes a lot out of you: stay calm and in your head whisper, "It's not me, it's them".

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