For a teacher, calling or contacting parents can be one of the most difficult challenges to face on a daily basis. It’s almost as if you’re a telemarketer or a bill collector: unless you’ve met the person on the other line, you have no idea how they will react to your news, whether good or bad.
One day you might call Johnny’s parents to say how proud you are that he has earned more points on this week’s quiz than he did on last week’s quiz, and they would be upset that they weren’t told by Johnny about last week’s quiz. Another day you might call to let them know that Sally has teased another girl in class about the girl’s glasses multiple times even after being asked not to tease the girl, and the parents will shrug it off, promise to talk to Sally but then never follow through.
It’s tough. We’re all humans and the reactions we have can vary from one person to another. There are other factors that can elicit these reactions to consider as well: the student’s relationship with parents, the parent’s relationship with the school, the parent’s busy schedules, etc.
The script is within my suggestions below. It can be modified as you find necessary.
If you’re a teacher about make a difficult phone call to a parent, there are several things you can do to make sure all goes smoothly. They are suggestions I myself have used as a middle school teacher and suggestions that have been given to my colleagues and me by other veteran teachers and administrators.
1. When an incident happens—cheating, back talk, teasing/bullying, fighting, disruptions, etc.—make note of it immediately. It may require you to interrupt your lesson for a minute, but it will spare you some grief later on when you’re trying to remember exactly what happened ( I kept a separate notebook in my desk for such occasions). Make sure it is objective—what actually happened, not your opinion or the opinion of the other students. Note: if it is something that is dangerous or severely disturbing (i.e. extreme acts of verbal bullying), contact your administrators right away to see if the student can be removed from the classroom and placed in a safe environment, and make sure to write it all down.
2. Assess the situation. If it is something that has happened the first time for a student, address the issue privately with them first (Never in front of the class! That sometimes makes matters worse), and see if there is a change. If there is no change either that day or in subsequent days, make the decision to call the parent. Don’t wait too long to make this decision; if parent contact is made too long after an incident has happened, the student will not learn anything since the incident no longer has relevance in their life, and the parents will potentially be upset that they were not told sooner.
3. Write down a script of the topic(s) to be discussed. It can be in the form of an outline, but make sure to write clearly what you are going to tell the parents, again without your opinion. Start with one positive thing about the student; it may be hard to find, in some cases, but it will help the parents understand that you are not out to get their child and it will help you keep your emotions in check as well. After establishing the positive item,include what the student has done along with the mention of your classroom rules/expectations(which I used to send out on the first day of school) and mention of the school’s rules/expectations and how they all connect for this incident. Also be sure to write down what steps you have taken to resolve the situation prior to the phone call (seat change, talk with the student, etc.) and what could happen if the student chooses to continue the behavior (detention, visit to the principal, in-school-suspension, etc.).
4. Start with an introduction of who you are and the positive point (script): “Good afternoon. I am Mr/Ms. SoAndSo from the Oak Tree Middle School. I am calling to speak to the parents of Harry Turtle. May I speak to them, please?” After establishing that you are talking to a parent, give them the positive point about the student.
5. Clearly indicate why you are calling (script). “I am calling to speak with you today about Harry’s recent behavior in class. While he has been helpful in the beginning of class, as I mentioned to you earlier, it seems he is having a hard time staying still in his seat and talking with other students while class is going on. “
6. Follow through with the rest of your script: your rules/expectations, school rules/expectations, your prior involvement and possible consequences. “In my classroom, students are not permitted to talk socially while the teacher is talking or other students are answering/asking questions, as you may have seen in the list of expectations sent home on the first day of school. It is also stated in the student handbook that disrupting class on a continuous basis is not permitted. On Monday, when Harry began exhibiting this behavior, I asked him after class if he would refrain from talking while class is going on, and he agreed. Since then, however, Harry has not stopped talking in class despite other reminders and it is becoming a distraction to the other students. I am afraid if he does not stop, he will be referred to the office for a detention, which is recommended in the student handbook. “
7. End with a hopeful statement (script). “I would appreciate if you could talk to Harry about this behavior, which I am sure would help him understand the importance of staying still and listening in class. If we work together, I’m hopeful that Harry will make improvements and not earn himself a detention.”
8. Listen to parent concerns. Perhaps they have been hearing the story differently from Harry. Listen to what they have to say. If Harry blames another student, ask the parents to have Harry address that issue with you in school so you can speak with the other student. Often times parents will also share personal family problems that might be contributing to the situations in school—loss of jobs, divorce, step-parenting, illness, etc. Pay close attention to these items. If the personal family issues seem like they might be ongoing, ask the parents if you may share them with a guidance counselor who may be able to speak to the student.
9. Thank them for their time and assistance (script). “I appreciate the time you have taken for this call and I thank you for your assistance in this matter. I truly hope that by working together, we can help Harry become the best student he is able to be.”
Similar items can be written in an email, but a word of caution: emails can be printed, so be very careful of what you type. It’s the same as if you were writing an email in a business environment—stick to the facts. Your best bet might be to just email asking for the parents to contact you via phone in case you were unable to reach them otherwise.
If I were a parent being contacted in this manner (it might happen; I have quite a rambunctious three-year-old), I would be inclined to respond positively. In my experience as a teacher, I have had many difficult phone calls with parents that have had positive outcomes.
Contacting parents can certainly be challenging, but in the end it is well worth it. It keeps communication open between you and the parents, letting them know that you care about their child. It helps to let students know how serious you are about following your classroom rules and those of the school. It also allows you to prevent issues from getting out of hand in your classroom by involving the parents who can moderate things at home.