A script for how to call a parent
I still dread calling parents after 14 years of teaching. The struggle is that usually, when you are calling a parent, you are the bearer of bad news (and that sucks!). Teachers, especially new teachers, fear that the parent will blame them for the problem in the classroom whether that problem is behavior or work ethic.
I’ve always wished I had a script for how to call a parent, so I decided to create one myself.
As a new teacher, you are likely much younger than the parent you are calling which makes you feel even more intimidated. Add to that the fact that you have likely never met, nor spoken to this parent before and have little idea how they will react to your bad news.
My first piece of advice is to reach out via email for phone call to all parents BEFORE any trouble can happen and you have to make one of these not so fun phone calls.
The best way to start your interaction with all parents is to get to them before trouble starts.
Make contact at the very beginning of the school year! Potentially even before the first day of class has even occurred. That will give the parents a sense of who you are and that you are in their child’s corner.
You can do this simply by sending out group emails to all parents before the first day of school and about once a month after that. Make sure to BCC (blind carbon copy) your email list. You don’t want to inadvertently give out parent’s email addresses to each other without their permission.
I accidentally CCed instead of BCCed once when I was a new teacher and I got a very angry message from a parent about it.
The emails should include information such as the monthly calendar, when assignments will be due, any major school happenings like underclassmen picture day, etc. It should also include positive information about what is or will be going on in the classroom and things you are excited about teaching/sharing with the kids.
Here is what mine looked like this year:
Then, when you have to make that hard call, at least it’s not the first time the parent has ever heard from you. Believe me, this will make a big difference.
Another important thing to do is to contact the parent before the child has reached the point of no return.
If you have to contact a parent about grades, do it when the student is starting to fall behind, not when it is two days before final grades are do and the child is failing.
When it comes to behavior I recommend trying to work out the issue with the student the first time the behavior occurs (assuming it is disruptive and not dangerous). Speak to the student privately. Not in front of the whole class. If the behavior happens again call the parent. Calling the parent too soon can make the student feel like you don’t trust them to correct their own behavior, but waiting to call until the behavior has become a major issue now has you in a conversation with a parent asking “why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
You need to call a parent. What you should do before you pick up the phone.
- Don’t assume the parent has the same last name as the child. Check first.
- Be 100% clear on what the parent needs to know and have your facts straight. I often make a list on a sticky note because I don’t want to forget anything when I am nervous. If the call is about grades, be ready to name each assignment that has not been turned in. If it is about behavior, be ready to explain very specifically what happened (without using other student’s names).
- Choose which phone to use. I always recommend using a school phone, not your cell phone.
- Approach the parent as a teammate. I like to use the phrase “Please help me in…. (making sure she gets such and such assignment turned in,” or “Will you help me in reminding him that it is not ok to make fun of other students? I think it will sink in more if he hears it from both of us.”
- “Good morning. This is ____’s (student’s name) ________(subject area) teacher from ____ school. May I please speak to Mr./Mrs.___________ (last name) ?”
- Hopefully you will have a cell phone number and it is a direct line to the parent, but follow through with step number one to be sure. If the parent is not available I recommend calling back, not leaving a message. I usually say something like, “Oh, they aren’t available? Ok, I will call back later. Thanks.” Messages often don’t get returned, especially if it is the student or a sibling taking the message.
- If you do get the parent on the line, you are ready to have this conversation regardless of how much you don’t want to. Start with something positive about the child. Even if it’s “love Sally’s new haircut, but I need to let you know about”…. or “Little Johnny did so great on his last writing assignment, but I wanted to let you know….”
- Then tell them the facts that you have written down on your sticky note.
- Follow that up with how they can improve their situation, whether that be their grade or their behavior.
- Make sure to end with a teammate tone. Something like, “Thanks for helping me make sure she stays on top of her make up work,” or “I appreciate you reiterating the importance of sharing.”
- Thank them for their time and wish them a good rest of the day. Make sure they know how to contact you (school phone number or email) if they have an questions.
You can do it!
There will be parents who aren’t helpful, or who are outright rude, but most parents will be on your side and support you in the education of their child.
For tips on how to handle absentee parents check out this recent post.
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