Imagine what a traditional parent teacher conference was like 30 years ago. The child’s teacher would discuss what goes on during the school day, the child’s performance in academics and behavior, how the child interacts with others, grade level expectations, the child’s strengths, etc. But these days, parent teacher conferences are much less predictable.
The parent teacher conference is just part of the job when you teach elementary school. But when parent teacher conferences are called for a high schooler, it is usually not for a good reason. Anyone from any walk of life can procreate, so as the teacher, you really don’t know what type of situation you are about to be a part of. Will the parent try to defend their kid’s awful behavior? Will they call you a liar? Will they shock and entertain you with weird sex stories? Anything is possible in parent teacher meetings. The parent can pretty much say whatever they feel in the moment (like their kid) while the teacher is expected to maintain a completely professional demeanor. It is one of the most challenging parts of the job, especially when confronted with some of the following types of parents.
At parent teacher conferences, these guardians can’t stop telling the teacher personal details about their lives or their children that have nothing to do with their kid or child’s education. One mom canceled her conference because she was “on her period.” Another one insisted on showing the teacher pictures of her son from the previous year to emphasize how much he had grown, but when she opened up the photos on her screen, she proceeded to scroll through dozens of pictures of male genitalia. To lighten the mood, she said, “You don’t want to see those, do you?” In another case, a teacher told a dad that his daughter was a good kid, and he said that’s what he was thinking when he made her. Of all the parent teacher conferences, that would be the most disgusting.
Parents of an Angel from God
These parents at parent teacher conferences don’t want to hear anything if it isn’t about how brilliant their kid is. If they don’t feel that you acknowledge and support that fact within the first minute or so of the meeting, they will list their child’s accomplishments just to make things clearer for you. These parents will often say that the work is too easy for their kid (regardless of their grades) or that their kid already read all the books in the curriculum during the summer, so they are bored. They also believe everything the kid says, so if you accuse them of something and the kid says they didn’t do it, that’s the end of the story.
Rude comments from parents during parent teacher conferences can vary greatly. They can be about you as a teacher, but they often have nothing to do with their child’s progress. These types of parents are extremely challenging because we are expected to remain completely professional while these people tear us apart. Some parents will remark on your age, whether you are too old or too young to be a teacher, in their opinion. During my first year of teaching, a parent busted into another parent teacher conference and said, “Is the teacher even here today? You’re the teacher? Is this some kind of joke or something? You look about 12 years old!” The comment itself wasn’t quite as horrendous as the delivery.
There might be comments about your weight, such as, “Is that your wedding picture? You know I got a personal trainer before my wedding,” or the one who tells you that, “You’ve really been a b**** since you got married, so maybe it isn’t working out. But you can’t take it out on the students.” (Yes, these are real quotes.)
Lawyers and Wannabes
These types of guardians in attendance at a parent teacher conference are either lawyers themselves or just love to threaten people with lawsuits. Sometimes they will jump right in before the teacher even gets a chance to speak and hurl accusations, such as, “Yeah, my daughter said that you refuse to give extra time on quizzes even though she has accommodations for that!” That certainly sets a certain tone for the rest of the meeting.
Some of these types will question your credentials by saying, “I would like to know where you got your degree from,” or asking, “How many years have you been teaching?” with a snooty tone, or even flat out asking you, “What makes you qualified to teach students of this ability level?” Many of these types of parents will want to view a copy of your teaching certificate since their child’s grade is a few points below what they think it should be. They also want copies of every single assignment you’ve given with detailed feedback on where and why they lost points.
It is not a funny situation when a parent shows up to a classroom or parent-teacher conference drunk or obviously on drugs. But sometimes the way the conference unfolds can be amusing, in retrospect, like when the parent falls asleep and snores on the desk or laughs hysterically at absolutely nothing.
Then there was this interaction:
Mom & Dad (stinking of alcohol and carrying coke bottles full of whiskey): “Now, what is this about!” Teacher: “Your son skips class half of the time and when he does show up, he doesn’t do any work and is extremely disruptive.” Dad (as Mom conspicuously him under the table): “So?” Teacher: “So it makes it difficult for me to teach the other students.” Mom (laughing): “Ain’t that, like, your job?” Teacher: “Yes, teaching is my job. But your son makes it impossible.” Dad (also having a great time): “Well, this sounds to me like it’s your problem and not mine!”
Something tells me these parents might act like this regardless of the alcohol consumption.
Uses You As a Therapist
This person is really having a hard time since their spouse cheated on them and ran away with their secretary. They are also your new best friend. They have all of the same interests and concerns as you and would love to get coffee, say, tomorrow night. They’re probably a single parent and can’t handle everything alone (which is totally relatable) but sometimes the single-parent problems lead to asking you out on a date, which is as awkward as it gets!
The Very Important Person
This parent will spend the entire conference doing things on their phone or iPad while they half-listen to what you have to say. One mom did not lift her eyes from her phone for the entire ten minutes we had scheduled to talk. It was the most awkward situation ever. I was basically talking to someone who was barely there. At one point I paused because it was just so absurd, and without looking up she responded, “I’m listening,” so I continued talking to her forehead.
This guardian wants to show off their knowledge of whatever subject it is that you teach. Some are trying to prove that they are smarter than you by blasting you with questions about the material. Some others just want to show that they are on your level. They will say things like, “Oh, I remember that book from college. I wrote a fancy analysis of the literary devices the author uses to explain the…” Others are desperate for an intellectual conversation and will keep trying to pull you into a book discussion or political debate. If you are an English teacher, you might even get an amateur writer who would love it if you would edit their crappy novel.
Already Mad About It
These parents already know their kid is difficult and doesn’t do what they’re supposed to do, but they’ve either tried everything and are at their wits’ end, or they are afraid of their kid and won’t do anything to change their behavior. Comments from these folks typically sound like, “He won’t let me take his phone,” or “I took his phone, video games, iPad, etc. I don’t know what else to do!” Anything you suggest as far as discipline, which really isn’t part of your job, they have already tried or the kid would never let them do it. You end up comforting them for having to deal with such a pain in the butt all the time when you only have the kid a few times a week.
This is the category I fall into as a parent. I am just so grateful that my kid has a competent teacher (or trustworthy adult who will take her off my hands every day) that I feel like I have to let them know many, many times throughout the conference. If they say my kid needs to work on something, I thank them for the suggestion. If they say nice things about my kid, I thank them for noticing it. I tell them I was a teacher for a long time (which my therapist says I shouldn’t do but I can’t help it) and I know how hard it can be and that whatever I can do to make their jobs easier they should let me know. If my kid has ever expressed anything positive about their teacher, I am sure to let them know as well! Maybe the teacher finds me annoying, but I can tell you that as a teacher I always felt a mutual love for the parents who appreciated what I did every day!
If you enjoyed this article, you would also love Funniest Excuses for Being Absent! You would also enjoy my book More Teacher Misery: Nutjob Teachers, Torturous Training & Even More BS.