Families & the Community

Relative Control

September 29, 2006 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

For many teachers, this time of year involves facing an occasionally hostile population: parents. In preparation for parent-teacher conference season, we asked Suzanne Capek Tingley, a former teacher and author of the new book How to Handle Difficult Parents,to share her classification system and wrangling techniques for a few of the toughest breeds (all of which can be either mothers or fathers).


The Intimidator

Characteristics: Often has a high-status career and sees you as a public servant, with the emphasis on “servant.” Tries to bully teachers. Balks when asked to help address problems: That’s your job.

Battle cry: “What are you going to do about this?”

How to handle: The first thing to remember is that you are a trained professional and this is your area of expertise. Outline the steps you’ve already taken to address the issue, and tell the Intimidator what you need from him. Be direct and assertive. If possible, give the Intimidator advance notice of low grades or behavior problems—the best defense is a good offense. If he calls you by your first name, do the same with him.


Pinocchio's Mom

Characteristics: Believes her child never lies, and will side with him or her against teachers—for example, accusing you of losing an assignment the student actually never turned in.

Battle cry: “Are you calling my child a liar?”

How to handle: Avoid a back-and-forth argument over who’s lying. Instead, focus on what happened. Ask very specific questions (if possible, directly to the child): “When was the assignment turned in? What did it look like? How many pages was it?” But don’t push for a full confession from the child. As soon as you can come to a resolution, let it go.


The Uncivil Libertarian

Characteristics: Thinks kids should be allowed to do pretty much whatever they want: wear inappropriate clothing, use the f-word, moon the custodian—you name it. Undermines your authority to enforce rules by taking the student’s side.

Battle cry: “Freedom of expression!”

How to handle: Explain why the rule exists. The Libertarian may not understand what chaos would ensue if 50 kids were to do what her kid did. If necessary, become a broken record: “I’m sorry we can’t agree on this, but the school rule is...” Know when the meeting is over; you’re not paid to take abuse. If necessary, suggest she talk to the principal.


Ms. Quit Picking on My Kid

Characteristics: Believes you treat her child unfairly because you don’t like him or her. Complains that her child is being punished for something that other students have done without getting caught.

Battle cry: “Other kids are doing it too.”

How to handle: Ask for specifics: “What do you mean by ‘picking on her’?” The parent may not have asked her child to explain; once her complaint is more concrete, you can address it. Emphasize that you try to enforce rules as fairly as possible. It’s OK to admit that there may have been infractions you didn’t catch—that doesn’t change the fact that her child did something wrong.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 2006 edition of Teacher Magazine


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
Strategies for Incorporating SEL into Curriculum
Empower students to thrive. Learn how to integrate powerful social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies into the classroom.
Content provided by Be GLAD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Families & the Community What Happens to the Lost-and-Found Mound at the End of the Year?
Most schools deal with lost-and-found piles as the school year ends. Some work with outside partners to recycle items for students in need.
5 min read
Dark gray laundry basket full of childrens' items with a white sign that reads "Lost Property"
Families & the Community Opinion What Student Impacted You Most as a Young Teacher?
Paying attention to students and their families can provide some of the most valuable lessons to teachers.
2 min read
Mike Nelson reads to his students.
Mike Nelson reads to his students.
Mike Nelson
Families & the Community Q&A How These District Leaders Turned Family Engagement on Its Head
Two Leaders to Learn From share insights on what family and community engagement entails.
7 min read
Families & the Community Video ‘A Welcoming Place’: Family Engagement Strategies for Schools (Video)
Schools that enlist parents as partners see positive results. Here's how to do it.
1 min read