As a teacher mentor and supervisor, I often would engage teachers in case studies of common parent-teacher conflicts. We would read from the scripts while role playing. The purpose of the case studies was for teachers to see the intricacies of the common complaints from the parents as well as observe human psychology. The emphasis of such activities was to learn to resolve a conflict in an amicable way, keeping the welfare of the child as the utmost priority.
Though parent engagement is a regular part of teacher training, there are not enough resources for parents to learn how to advocate for their child when a conflict arises. For a parent, when the child is aggrieved, no issue is too small. It is human nature to feel the pain and misery of your child, and protect their interest, right and wellbeing with every fiber of your being. However, the smallest of the issues can become too big to handle if the matter is presented solely as an emotional response.
There are ways parents can advocate for their children’s best interests at his/her school to bring the most benefit and resolve the conflict in an amicable manner. Conflict resolution is a process and a series of steps the two parties take to resolve the matter of dispute amongst themselves. Sometimes these processes are outlined explicitly, such as in a school handbook. At other times, the disputing parties agree to a protocol proposed by a third party or agreed upon between themselves.
Roots of Common Conflicts
Teacher educator Mark Philips views the common types of parent-teacher conflict in three categories:
- Domain - control issues
- Norms - differences in values
- Realities - different perceptions of the student
Domain – control issues
Some teachers try to interfere in their student’s home life, make judgements, and then hold perceptions as well as expectations that lead to a negative working relationship with their parents. Some parents are invested in their child’s life to the extent that they want to control their children’s experiences in the classroom, from learning objectives to classmate interactions. For a child to have a fulfilling learning experience, it is vital for parents to realize that the classroom is the teacher’s domain ruled by classroom rules and school policies.
Norms – difference in values
The steps to settle an issue serve as a guide to resolve a wide range of conflicts, and work toward a resolution. But mannerism, body language, and attitude are seldomly explained in these steps. These intricate ways of communicating during the interactions are norms. The norms are established by cultural practices for communication and engagement. However, in a multicultural and diverse society, the responsibility of understanding and respecting the multicultural norms falls upon all parties. Besides the norms, the conflicts can also arise when parents and teachers differ in social and political views.
Realities – different perceptions of the student
A child’s personality and behavior adjusts to varying environments in any given day. How a child interacts with the parents at home is different from the interactions with 15+ classmates and adult teachers. These are two kinds of worlds with markedly different expectations and rules. Parents may not observe certain habits and behaviors of their children at home that are more pronounced in a social environment in a classroom.
What to Do When a Conflict Arises
Some issues are too important to follow the normal protocol for conflict resolution outlined in the school handbook. In those circumstances, a parent must advocate for their child vigorously and immediately. Anytime a child’s physical well-being is threatened in a school or a classroom, that issue needs to be addressed urgently by going directly to the administrators.
For other matters of lesser severity, parents should address the issue with teachers in a positive and proactive manner. When a child comes to you with a classroom or school complaint, use the following steps to address the situation with the school:
1. Consult the school handbook.
For a smaller matter that can be resolved by working with the teacher, it would not serve to get the administration involved. It may cause more frustration and tension for yourself. Therefore, it is important to know the school policy on handling parent/student grievances and the hierarchical chain for following up on them.
2. Ask to meet the teacher.
Meeting face-to-face is the best way to address an issue. Emails and texts do not convey the same meaning as an in-person meeting does. Communication takes on a completely different meaning when two parties are sitting across from each other. Parents and teachers can read the mood of the room, read the emotions on the faces and in the voices.
3. Try your best to keep a positive tone.
Perception is reality for children, though their understanding of the world is limited. After gathering the information from your child, it is important to ask for details from the teacher. Then compare it verbally with your child’s side of the story, but respectfully. Maybe add humor to it too, to lighten the situation.
Remember, the teacher on the other hand may also be nervous or may not be aware of the details and information you may have. The question at hand could be confusion about homework policy, submission of an assignment, rubric for grading, a poor test score, behavioral infraction, etc. It could be a simple misunderstanding or just a missed email. Making it personal to the teacher will not be helpful and would further cause distrust in the future.
4. Present a common objective.
Most teachers are well meaning and love children. They love teaching and being in a classroom, though it is a difficult job. Recognizing their work and status, parents can create a common meeting point. Recognizing the teacher as a respectful adult, who means well for the child, can lead to a positive dialogue for both parties. Here are some points to keep in mind:
- Stay focused on helping your child perform better.
- Let the teacher know how the classroom policy or the incident is being perceived by your child and yourself.
- Do suggest ideas that may help you and your child. Do promote your child’s good qualities and skills.
- Ask for how best you can help your child catch up with missing assignments or make up a test or correct a behavioral issue. In some situations, share any life events that may be affecting the child in a negative way. Children are not able to express their emotions as mature adults do, and they may project by performing poorly in the class, academically or behaviorally.
- Collaborate on creating a plan of action. Let the teacher know what can be expected of you at home.
- Ask for a clear timeline for the resolution of an issue and honor your side of the bargain.
- Respect the privacy of the conversation between the teacher and yourself.
- Ask to volunteer in class if it helps the child focus better.
5. Escalate the complaint when the issue of concern persists.
If you still find yourself in the bind after making all the efforts to improve the situation with no progress, then escalate the complaint to the next in line. An administrator can play a role as a mediator, having listened to the perspectives of both parents and teachers while making their own observations.
In conclusion, parent-teacher conflicts become easier to resolve when both parties differentiate between perceptions and realities. Respecting each other’s domains and views, communicating respectfully, staying focused on progress, having a positive outlook, and using the knowledge of norms to inform dialogue effectively are some of the ways to help the parent-teacher dialogue.
A saying of our Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, teaches us how to inculcate positivity in our interactions, which when exercised may lead to best conflict resolutions.
“Avoid suspicion, for suspicion is the gravest lie in talk and do not be inquisitive about one another and do not spy upon one another and do not feel envy with the other, and nurse no malice, and nurse no aversion and hostility against one another. And be fellow-brothers and servants of Allah.”
Tayaabah Qazi has a master’s degree in Educational Leadership, an AdminI/II Certification from the State of Maryland Education Department, and a Secondary Teaching Certification in Chemistry as well as a CPP certificate. She has served in the education field as a teacher and an administrator of schools. Recently, she served at Community College of Baltimore County as a Coordinator of Adult Basic Education program. Currently, Tayaabah is the Program Manager at the Office of Workforce Development at Maryland Department of Labor. She has been a long-time resident of Maryland for 17 years, with her family, but hails from Southern California. She is also a staunch believer of the 4 Cs: Compassion. Commitment. Conversation. Cultivation.