4 pics 1 word answers My Cash Bot Review
A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents | Ecology of Education

A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents

Teachers would be foolhardy to label parents as either good or bad.

Not all parents are created equal and cannot be categorized on a single spectrum.  To do so would jeopardize a teacher’s ability to survive. Literally.  I mean, I’m talking life or death here.

You see, when normally mild mannered and reasonable people become parents they take on a condition that shapes their behavior. In medical circles, that condition is known as neurosis.

One parent, whom I see every morning in the mirror, told me, “We’re like werewolves, transfigured by parenthood.” (Judging by the bags under his eyes, I’d have to agree.)

Knowing this, we teachers must be careful when working with us parents.  It may be the most dangerous part of our jobs and we need to be prepared for any type of exposure we are likely to face.

So below is an very incomplete field guide to some of the more extreme types of parents that both new & veteran teachers might come across, along with some handling strategies. With over a gazillion types of parents, it would be impossible to profile them all.  Indeed, they are as hard to standardize as students and/or teachers. With this in mind, please be advised that this list is not representative of the majority of parents, just a select minority.

Please feel free to add additional parent types or handling ideas in the comment section. Or, consider working with the good folks over at Parentella to create a Parent’s Guide to Teachers.

1. Burger King Parents

Characteristic markings: They want it their way, right away.

Identifying behaviors: “I sent you that e-mail (8 seconds ago), have you responded yet?” or “I know class is about to start, so I’ll only take a few minutes of your  time.”

What you might want to say: “Sorry, this is not drive thru schooling. I’ll get back to you after I grade papers, plan lessons, and pick up the room. Ta-ta.”

What you should NOT say: “You want fries with that?”

What you might say: “Oh, no, sorry. I’ll do my best to get back to you in the next 24 hours.”

Handling Strategy: Appeasement and deflection. Buy time for yourself and set boundaries. Let parents know at the start of school how to begin a conversation with you. I encourage parents to ask me, “Do you have a minute right now, or should we schedule a time to talk about my child?”

2. Chicken Little Parents

Characteristic markings: “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

Identifying behaviors: Overreact to the slightest perceived shortcoming of the teacher and/or school.

What you might want to say: “Relax. No one died. No one’s gonna die. Everyone is fine. Breathe. And remember, it could be worse.”

What you should NOT say: “Get the flip over it and stop dosing your coffee with methamphetamine.”

What you might say: “Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I’ll look into it right away.”

Handling strategy: Containment & reassurance. Respond with calm coolness. Have them sit, offer a cup of water or cheez-its, and get all the facts. Listen (or at least appear to). A warm hand on the upper back as they leave may help. (Just don’t accidentally push them out the door.)

Field notes: These are parents who need to leave school more relaxed than they arrived.  If allowed to fester, their fervor, even if completely irrational, is contagious.

3. Flintstone Parents

Also Known As: Rose-Colored-Past Parents

Characteristic markings: Often begins complaints with, “When I was in _____ grade . . . “

Identifying behaviors: Employs a grand vision of their own past. For example: Remembers their 4th grade essay being a brilliant 5 page exposition exploring the recovering economy of post-war Germany when it was actually 3 paragraphs comparing & contrasting orange juice and Tang.

What you might want to say: “Awesome! Any chance you still have it? I’ll bet the kids would love it if you’d come read it to them and then tell them what life was like when you were their age!”

What you should NOT say: “Would you get over yourself already? Self-aggrandizement based on hyperbolized memories just sets unrealistic & unmeetable expectations for your child. It can actually do more harm than good. You know how your childhood house seems so large in your memory? Same thing going on here, Doogie Howser.”

What you might say: “This could be a case of comparing apples to oranges. When we were growing up, there was one medium for aquiring and distributing information (books). Writing projects reflected that. Today, with information being widely available in multiple formats, it is important that our projects reflect that reality. Your child’s project looks different from yours because there were different guidelines and different objectives. Would you like to discuss the goals of the assignment?”

Handling Strategy: Give them props for their accomplishments (and their imagination) and then try to help them see the merits of what their child is doing. Encourage them, when looking at their child’s work to focus first on something they connect with about it, before furrowing their brow and telling their kid how it could be better.

4. The Grass is Greener Parents

Characteristic markings: See another place as being better than where they are. Meaning, they see other classrooms/schools as better than yours.

Identifying Behaviors: Under the guise of “helping” they provide updates on what other classrooms/schools are doing that you are not.

What you might want to say: “I notice you don’t mention all the things we are doing that others are not. Is that on purpose?”

What you should NOT say: “I hope you don’t say the same sort of stuff to your kids. That makes you one of ‘those’ parents that no-one wants to be.”

What you might say: “Oh, really? Huh. I didn’t know that. That gives me some ideas for what we can do in the future.  Thank you!”

Field Notes: These are the folks who are not afraid to mention this when they run into you at the library while you are with your own children.  Remember that they mean well and don’t take it personally. They do the same thing to others.  It’s not just you.

5. The Barometer Parents

Characteristic markings: Able to assess and report the mood among other parents and/or students.

Identifying Behaviors: Privately comes forward with information about what is going on that you don’t know about, but probably should.

What you might want to say: “Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention.  I was not aware folks felt that way. I’ll try to address the matter ASAP.”

What you should NOT say: “So? I don’t care.”

What you might say: “Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention.  I was not aware folks felt that way. I’ll try to address the matter ASAP.”

Field notes: These are a must find, each year.

Handling Strategy: Barometer Parents are allies.  You want one, or two, each and every year. Find someone you communicate well with, who is connected to other parents and can be discreet. Ask them if they will let you know (without naming names) if there is any back-channel talking/complaining going on between parents that you need to address.

The rationale: Some grumbling and venting is understandable & healthy between parents. However, grumbling & venting on the same subject over and over without communicating with the teacher can be detrimental to the students and the health of the class, especially if it grows out of control.  If the teacher knows what’s going on, he/she can do something about it.

6. The Perfectionist Parents

Characteristic markings: Focuses on the empty part of a mostly full cup.

Identifying behaviors: No matter how well things are going, they are always able to find something you could and should be doing better.

What you might want to say: “Really?! All this cool stuff going on, and you’re focusing on that?!”

What you should NOT say: “Do you do this to your child? Is this why they struggle to take constructive criticism? How many ambien does it take for you to go to sleep at night?”

What you might say: “That’s a great inisight.  I am always looking for ways to improve my units and projects.  I’ll make a note of your suggestion(s) for next year. Thanks!”

Handling strategy: Perfectionists are notoriously neurotic about, well, perfection. Their fervor is fed by Martha Stewart magazines & Pottery Barn catalogues that depict life as ordered and flawless. Self-depricating humor often settles their insistence that your world be as perfect as they envision. (Full disclosure: I’m married to a recovering perfectionist.)

7. Bueller Parents

Characteristic markings: Absent all together.

Identifying behaviors: Try this call, “Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?” If you hear nothing in response, you’ve got a Bueller Parent.

What you might want to say: “I hope you are more involved with your kids at home than you are at school.”

What you should NOT say: “What’s your problem? Get off your duff, brush off whatever ‘I hate school’ leftovers you have from high school, and get involved, ya bum!”

What you might say: “Hi so-n-so. This is so-n-so’s teacher.  I just called to tell you how much I am really enjoying your son/daughter. She/He is really engaging, has some great insights, and shows fantastic potential. I hope she’s/he’s talking about what we are doing in school. Please feel free to call me if you have any questions. My cell phone number is…”

Handling strategy: Kid gloves & baby steps. First step — Contact (keep it short & positive). Second step — Engagement. Third step: Ongoing relationship building.

These seven are by no means comprehensive, and like students, we’d be fools to standardize our expectations of parents.  Each parent is unique and should be treated as such, lest we activate the beast within! Additionally, connecting with parents helps teachers capitalize on opportunities to bridge the gap between home & school, helping to make learning more relevant and personal.

Plus, getting and keeping parents on your side can only work to your advantage with the students.

(Note: This is a work of tongue-in-cheek theory based on 9 years of falling in love with students and their families. Any resemblance to actual parents is purely coincidental.)
Image: LWVOR

Tags: , , ,

69 Responses to “A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents”

  1. August 14, 2010 at 9:20 pm #

    RT @raesmaa: A Teachers' Field Guide to Parents http://bit.ly/dmZhgd /via @MmeVeilleux #edu

  2. August 15, 2010 at 12:49 pm #

    A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents | Ecology of Education http://bit.ly/c5cvb0

  3. August 15, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

    This is a great post! RT @web20classroom A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents | Ecology of Education http://bit.ly/c5cvb0

  4. April
    August 15, 2010 at 4:48 pm #

    And here's a parent's response: http://blog.parentella.com/2010/a-parents-field

    • Mixolydianinflorida
      December 14, 2011 at 12:40 am #

      Right on. I landed here because I’m having trouble communicating with my child’s teacher. I think Jason was trying to be funny but I felt insulted. I prefer April’s list.

  5. August 15, 2010 at 8:11 pm #

    RT @ShellTerrell: A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents http://bit.ly/any8ZL via @charlie1312 #education

  6. August 16, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    Oh how we LOVE labels. I can only imagine the field guide for kids. I identify a little bit with every category above. Please don’t put me in a can of tuna.

  7. August 16, 2010 at 10:57 am #

    A parent's response on @Parentella (http://bit.ly/bB9tew) to my "Teacher's Field Guide to Parents" (http://bit.ly/dmZhgd) #parenting #edchat

  8. Anonymous
    August 16, 2010 at 6:37 pm #

    Ha-ha. Not to worry! No tuna canning going on around here. I think most of us parents have a bit of each of these in us.

  9. Tina
    August 17, 2010 at 5:14 am #

    Ha, I’m a parent who always worry about being THAT parent. You know, THAT one. I have parts of all of the above (I’m not a teacher, but I have worked in education). It is amazing how absolutely sane people go a leetle, teeny bit nutso when their kids are involved. Thanks for making me laugh. :)

  10. August 18, 2010 at 2:58 am #

    A Teacher's Field Guide to Parents http://bit.ly/crjlT1

  11. August 18, 2010 at 9:39 am #

    A Teacher's Field Guide to Parents – http://b2l.me/ag27rd (via @Eco_of_Ed)

  12. August 20, 2010 at 7:28 pm #

    A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents http://j.mp/9rAvHM via Jason Flom

  13. August 21, 2010 at 7:40 am #

    A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents http://is.gd/etKLT

  14. August 21, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents http://is.gd/eubY9

  15. susan price
    August 21, 2010 at 5:00 pm #

    great post… how about the tj maxx one: “You want the max for the minimum” (at tj maxx).. i love the responses… very helpful.. thank you.

  16. Kimberly Wagner
    August 22, 2010 at 2:48 am #

    I very much enjoyed these descriptions, especially the what you want to say but shouldn’t! I recognized all types and, sadly, they were almost always of honours students…(except the absent parent). The absent parent was predominant in non-honours and lower level classes, so I try to accept the overactive parent because although sometimes time consuming and annoying, they certainly mean well!

  17. RITE729
    August 22, 2010 at 3:23 am #

    As a veteran teacher, I really appreciated your article and chuckled more than once. Lots of good practical advice packed with the humor!

  18. August 26, 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    @vodkamom Just found u & your blog (via @parentella). Funny stuff. U might like this teacher's guide 2 parents. http://bit.ly/dmZhgd Cheers.

  19. August 27, 2010 at 8:01 pm #

    A teacher's field guide to parents… http://bit.ly/97rHiT

  20. August 27, 2010 at 8:19 pm #

    RT @SimpleCEO: A teacher's field guide to parents… http://bit.ly/97rHiT

  21. August 27, 2010 at 9:21 pm #

    RT @SimpleCEO: A teacher's field guide to parents… http://bit.ly/97rHiT

  22. August 27, 2010 at 10:19 pm #

    RT @SimpleCEO: A teacher's field guide to parents… http://bit.ly/97rHiT

  23. August 27, 2010 at 10:58 pm #

    RT @SimpleCEO: A teacher's field guide to parents… http://bit.ly/97rHiT

  24. August 27, 2010 at 10:59 pm #

    RT @SimpleCEO A teacher's field guide to parents… http://bit.ly/97rHiT — works for librarians too!

  25. August 28, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    RT @EduDGK: Fantastic article! RT @SimpleCEO: A teacher's field guide to parents… http://bit.ly/97rHiT

  26. August 29, 2010 at 1:15 am #

    One important parent type that could be added, in my opinion, is the Pit Bull Parent who wants to attack and bring down a teacher simply as a blood sport — or maybe because of a bad personal experience in school years before; who knows? I’ve only experienced one teeth-baring parent like this, but I’ve been witness to several who circled some colleagues — they focus in on a teacher and find every infraction and injustice they can find, then report it to the administration and demand consequences, rarely speaking directly to the teacher about it. The solution? There really isn’t one but it helps to learn defusing tactics, bite your tongue, and communicate with the administration before the parents do.

  27. August 29, 2010 at 1:53 am #

    RT @surreallyno: Ha ha ha! The best guide 4 parents I EVER read! http://tinyurl.com/36wprav I should print this!

  28. August 30, 2010 at 8:14 pm #

    @FreeRangeKids You might get a chuckle (or gnashed teeth) out of this Teacher's Field Guide to Parents http://bit.ly/dmZhgd Cheers.

  29. September 6, 2010 at 2:20 pm #

    [#Education] A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents | Ecology of Education http://ow.ly/2zYLN

  30. September 18, 2010 at 10:30 am #

    @Mike You make a great point

  31. Cathy Williams
    September 30, 2010 at 7:36 am #

    hehehehe:) wow I love your categorization of parents. Its fun to read and really interesting and factual based especially Flintstone parents.
    Keep posting entertaining posts

  32. October 13, 2010 at 3:20 pm #

    RT @Eco_of_Ed: A Teacher's Field Guide to Parents http://bit.ly/dyQ9gs

  33. October 13, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    RT @ieanea RT @Eco_of_Ed: A Teacher's Field Guide to Parents http://bit.ly/dyQ9gs

  34. Ed
    October 15, 2010 at 11:36 pm #

    The teacher as parent needs to be added. This parent is the best ally of a good teacher and the worst fear of a bad teacher. We’ve been there and done that and will not take mediocre teachers lightly and will be the worst nightmare of persons with weapons-grade stupidity holding the job of a teacher.

  35. Ed
    October 15, 2010 at 11:36 pm #

    The teacher as parent needs to be added. This parent is the best ally of a good teacher and the worst fear of a bad teacher. We’ve been there and done that and will not take mediocre teachers lightly and will be the worst nightmare of persons with weapons-grade stupidity holding the job of a teacher.

  36. October 21, 2010 at 8:27 pm #

    @amandacdykes There might be a laugh in here somewhere. http://bit.ly/dmZhgd Cheers.

  37. August 8, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    A teacher's field guide to parents: http://t.co/apc3eRU

  38. August 10, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

    A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents http://su.pr/9KlvXj #edchat

  39. August 14, 2011 at 11:51 pm #

    A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents http://t.co/uOWhQOt

  40. August 16, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    It's that time of year again: "A Teacher's Field Guide to Parents" http://t.co/pUiqgjy #ntchat #teaching #humor

  41. August 17, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

    Awesome post! Unfortunately I’m more likely to blurt out the “What you might want to say” lines, so I’ll have to keep this guide handy!

  42. Alexander Zilo
    September 19, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    All teachers. parents and students should watch ” FORKS OVER KNIVES ” – It is a life changing experience.

  43. October 11, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

    A Teacher's Field Guide To Parents: http://t.co/hprBL27u

  44. October 11, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    RT @web20classroom: A Teacher's Field Guide To Parents: http://t.co/bbz72klo

  45. October 11, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    RT @web20classroom: A Teacher's Field Guide To Parents: http://t.co/FMOzdMHJ

  46. October 11, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    RT @web20classroom A Teacher's Field Guide To Parents: http://t.co/HkCkzpwD

  47. October 11, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    lol!! A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents http://t.co/7L6TQRpY /via @Eco_of_ED #edchat #ukedchat

  48. October 12, 2011 at 1:51 am #

    RT @web20classroom: A Teacher's Field Guide To Parents: http://t.co/oF5ql8yl

  49. October 12, 2011 at 4:36 am #

    A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents http://t.co/AsSyTpaT (via @summify from Alfonso Gonzalez, and Milton Ramirez)

  50. Janet | expateducator.com
    October 13, 2011 at 7:17 am #

    This is very timely. Not only did I need to laugh, I should keep these in mind as I work through a particularly tricky parent/teacher conference this next week – I’m not terribly sure how this parent will react to not-so-good news.

    What I know for sure…I began treating parent/teacher conferences very differently after attending the first one as a step-parent. 

    Janet | expateducator.com

  51. October 29, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    RT @afemn @dropoutnation talks #ParentPower (http://t.co/JrtAX1vC )/links to revealing post on teachers view of parents http://t.co/mMAgF2MG

  52. February 7, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

    A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents http://t.co/RnQjYzj7

  53. Nikim1806
    May 4, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

    I have one child in
    college and one in 6th grade so I have met a wide variety of teachers.

    The ‘counting the days’
    teacher: has put in 30 years and this is my last so I don’t care. Email me all
    you want because I’m not changing anything.

    The ‘I just got my
    degree’ teacher: I’m mainlining coffee and have a billion ideas and they all
    involve parent involvement and since I know you, like me, have nothing to do
    this will be great big supper fun!

    The ‘did you ace early
    childhood development’ teacher: I have known your child for 4 weeks and now
    know them better than you.  Don’t bother
    trying to explain anything to me; I stopped listening 20 minutes ago.

    The ‘I’m busy’
    teacher:  you have no idea how hard it is
    to be a teacher, no one else works 60 hour weeks! Every response you get from
    me will be short and terse.

    And the very rare ‘mentally
    stable’ teacher: I have enough experience to be realistic but haven’t become bitter;
    you can find me next to the unicorn in the land of marshmallows.

  54. May 26, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

    A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents: http://t.co/LzCe5nyp

  55. teacher1
    August 19, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    I AM a teacher. Your list is almost to the correct!  I wish parents would let us teach or they should go back and get THEIR degree. We teach for the kids, we dont teach because we hate kids. Parents remember that when you are mad because a teacher GAVE your child a bad grade. How about encouraging your child to study instead? 

  56. August 19, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    A Teacher's Field Guide To Parents: http://t.co/hprxds6A #ptchat

  57. Jess
    August 19, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    I love this post!  I know exactly what you mean with these types but what I love is ideas of how to handle each one.  Really well-done.  I’m going to print and put in my binder for reminding myself of how to deal with some situations.  Awesome and funny.  Thank you.

  58. August 19, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    A Teacher's Field Guide To Parents: http://t.co/hprxds6A #ptchat

  59. November 26, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    A Teacher's Field Guide to Parents http://t.co/vx17PpRp <<I guess students get it from their parents #BlackEdu

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tweets that mention A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents | Ecology of Education -- Topsy.com - August 13, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jason Flom and Meg Simpson, Cheryl Walker. Cheryl Walker said: A Teacher's Field Guide to Parents – http://b2l.me/ag27rd (via @Eco_of_Ed) […]

  2. Cool Room Mom » Blog Archive » A Field Guide to Parents? - August 13, 2010

    […] just came across an interesting blog post. It’s a humor column, but I suspect it has more truth to it than some people might wish was […]

  3. A teachers’ field guide for parent – you just have to have a sense of humour | Parents as Partners - August 14, 2010

    […] once again to Twitter for directing me to Jason Flom’s delightful stab at parent engagement. I mean really you have to be able to laugh at […]

  4. A Parent’s Field Guide to Parents | Parentella - August 15, 2010

    […] The Ecology of Education recently posted A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents. […]

  5. Parents field guide to parents | Parents as Partners - August 15, 2010

    […] field guide to appear. April McCaffery @parentella has penned her response to Jason Flom’s Teacher’s Field Guide for Parents. April aptly describes what parents think and feel and what people might be missing when they talk […]

  6. JD's School of Thought » Daily Links #5 – 8/24/2010 - August 24, 2010

    […] things that 20% of Americans believe. Some are pretty sad. A Teacher’s Guide To Parents http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/?p=2555 A nice article on the types of parents we run into as educators. 10 Ways to Help a Students […]

  7. Tweets that mention A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents | Ecology of Education -- Topsy.com - August 28, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Steven W. Anderson, ALIA CYS, MSTA, Kelli Murphy, Cristina Milos and others. Cristina Milos said: Ha ha ha! The best guide 4 parents I EVER read! http://tinyurl.com/36wprav I should print this! […]

  8. DEN Blog Network » Ecology of Education: A Teacher's Field Guide to Parents - October 27, 2010

    […] http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/?p=2555 Posted on August 13, 2010 in Illinois, Uncategorized by Tracy Selock New Comment […]

  9. A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents « slcsdedtech - August 20, 2012

    […] A Teacher’s Field Guide to Parents […]

Leave a Reply