When parents send their children off to school in the morning, they hope that the school day will be a positive experience—one where their child will learn, socialize, and grow. But what happens when a parent disagrees with something their child’s teacher has done? What should a parent do to address and resolve a conflict or disagreement with the teacher?
As Superintendent of Schools for Ascension Parish, an educator and a father, David Alexander has some guidance for parents on how to resolve disputes with teachers in a positive manner.
Don’t Make it Personal
When parents have something they need to address with their child’s teacher, they should be sure to stay focused on the behavior, not the person. Alexander recommends that parents refrain from making assumptions about the teacher’s character.
“Sometimes that’s difficult to do because we’re human beings, and when we feel like somebody has done an injustice to our child, we get really upset,” Alexander says. “I’ve been there before—we’ve all been there. But we don’t solve any problems when it turns into a personal matter.”
Most of the time, Alexander points out, parents don’t know their children’s teachers very well—but they do have some important common ground, a mutual desire to see that child succeed.
“As a parent, you want what’s best for your child,” says Alexander. “Teachers want what’s best for the children in their classroom. Educators are in it for the children.”
Get the Facts
When a child reports that someone at school has done something hurtful, it is important for the parent to listen to their child and believe them. But, Alexander advises, parents should keep in mind that the child’s story is just one side of the story, and they should be open to the teacher’s point of view.
“Your child didn’t lie to you,” says Alexander. “But it’s like when there’s a car wreck—if there are three people involved, there will be three stories about what happened. Try to get everybody’s perspective to find the truth. Try to recreate the issue with as many facts as possible.”
Use the Chain of Command
When a child comes home and reports something his teacher said or did that the parent finds inappropriate, the first thing the parent should do is to contact that teacher first. Respect the teacher by discussing the matter with him or her before involving anyone else. Sending an email may be appropriate for a less urgent matter.
“It’s important to remember that teachers have families too, so if you send an email at seven at night, they may not even see your email until after school the next day,” says Alexander.
Alexander recommends allowing 24-30 hours for a response to an email. If the matter is more urgent than that, consider calling the school and leaving a message expressing that you have a concern you would like to discuss with the teacher and that you feel there is some level of urgency. Then, ask when you can expect a call back. For an extremely urgent matter, a parent should go to the school in person.
If a parent doesn’t receive a reply in a reasonable amount of time, or isn’t satisfied with the reply, then the next step would be to contact the school’s administration. If they are not satisfied with the administration’s response, ask who to go to next. The structure varies from school to school, so it might be a supervisor, a director, or a superintendent, depending on the size of the school system.
“Let the teacher know that you know he or she is very busy and has a lot of priorities,” says Alexander. “You’re trying to develop some communication. The overall mission has to be, one, to do something to resolve an issue that concerns your child, and two, to let the school know of something that they may not have known existed.”
Set an Example for Your Child
“Our children watch how we solve conflict,” says Alexander. “One day, they are going to be adults, and they are going to try to resolve conflicts in their lives the same way that they saw us do it.”
If you have a concern, Alexander says, address it right away. Don’t wait until you’ve heard several escalating complaints from your child. If you can resolve the issue when it’s small, then it may never turn into a big problem.
Communicating openly and staying focused on the facts can often prevent the need for damage control later. But, Alexander advises, if a parent feels that they may have let their emotions get the better of them during a conflict, they can tell the teacher that they’re sorry if they said anything that offended them, and reassure the teacher by letting them know that they know they have the same goal: success for the child.
“I think most conflicts are resolved in a positive manner,” says Alexander. “When you think about our vast school system, all the children that go to school every day, and the fact that we have human interactions, I think most conflicts do get resolved in a positive way.” ■