Quirky Situation + Angry Parent + What to Say Via Email = All Better!

As a busy teacher, we all know how time-consuming it can be when a situation arises and a parent’s scathing email comes through.

It’s always at the worst possible time, too!

We either check our email late at night when curiosity gets the best of us as our smartphone bings. 

Or we see that lovely email first thing in the morning, bright and early, and then we have to deal with it and pretend that all is well as our kiddos come in the door.

So first of all, let me just say how truly important it is NOT NOT NOT to look at your email until it is an appropriately convenient time FOR YOU!

In fact, turn off the email notifications on your personal device when you’re not physically at school. If it’s YOUR personal family time and not district time, then by no means should you feel obligated to respond to those interruptions.

emailtimesuck

For more ideas and rationales on this, check out a previous blog post here where I go into actual things to say to parents or admin who assume you live by your work email at home. It’ll really help you put things in perspective and feel awesome about taking your life back! So check it out here!

Responding to Ridiculous and Angry Parent Emails!

6 Scenarios to Help You!

I’m going to split this into two blog posts: 3 scenarios here and then the next 3 in my next blog post.

The following scenarios are real situations that happened to me either this year or last year. I obviously changed the names, but the parts in quotes are literally taken right from the original emails I received. I didn’t include the entire emails from the parents; I only included the most focused lines to get the point across.

I did include my actual responses, and so you’ll notice a few things that remain consistent in each email:

I always think about what I want to say (but can’t) just to get it out of my system. Then I use that to very diplomatically reframe the actual problem and to make sure that I am not accepting blame for something that is not my fault.

All too often, we tend to apologize and bend over backwards and just take it when it is not our fault. I bring it back to the student or back to the parent in each situation, but in a way that isn’t rude and that won’t cause more trouble for me.

I always end each email with “Thank you for checking in with me. I’m happy to help!” I do this no matter the situation because I really am here to help. I’m not here to parent, I’m not here to accept blame for what parents should be doing or not doing, and I’m not here to “work for you.” I’m here to help. And I’m happy to help. Plus it’s always good to end on a positive note.

In five of the six scenarios, I either got a “thank you” response or no response at all. So I feel confident that these ideas will help you, too. (I’ll explain what happened in Scenario 2).

 Responding to Aggravated Parents in Ridiculous Situations

Scenario 1 – It’s the last day of the grading period and a parent wants to know what Isabella can do to raise her grade to passing for the semester (she needs six points).

What the parent wanted: “Is there a worksheet she can do for extra credit to pass?”

What I wanted to say but didn’t: You ignored my emails and phone calls during the entire month of September and October when I tried to contact you about my concerns. You had no response to the progress reports and report cards previously sent home, and NOW, five months later, you’re JUST starting to see a problem? And you want it all fixed with a worksheet?!!? You’re an idiot! It’s too late! 

What I wrote back to keep me off the news without totally selling my soul:

“Thank you for reaching out to me. Yes, I have been concerned about Isabella’s grades as well. I’ve seen this problem since September when I originally began contacting you about what was happening in class.

Since the semester ends today and I have to turn in grades by 4:30, there is simply no possible way to make up all the missing assignments.

I know you’re concerned, as am I, so I’d like to invite you to help me help Isabella beginning on Monday when the new semester begins. I’m excited to start a whole new semester where she gets a fresh start.

The greatest part about a new beginning is that if Isabella works hard and earns at least a ____ this grading period, then that grade will be averaged with the first semester grade and she will pass for the year.

Thank you for checking in with me. I’m here to help!”

Sincerely,

………..

The response: No response whatsoever.

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Scenario 2 – Cramer was playing around in your class yesterday and hurt himself. The parent emailed you (and cc’d the principal) and wants to know why you let him goof off in class, and why you then refused to send him to the nurse for his injury.

What the parent wanted: “As his teacher and protector, you should have made sure he was seated and working. If he became injured, you should have let him go to the nurse and I demand that you apologize to him for your uncaring and selfish oversight when he was hurt and needed you.”

What I wanted to say but didn’t: I remember Cramer burst through the door, interrupting class like he does each day. You and I have met before to discuss his constant outbursts and interruptions, but there’s been no change. So when I saw him rolling around on the floor and laughing and moaning, I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary. I am most certainly NOT going to apologize to him because he hurt himself playing around! If anything, he needs to apologize to me for disrupting class yet again. How dare you “demand” that I apologize because he chose to act like an idiot and hurt himself! This is what he does every single day, so I had no idea he was hurt because this is normal behavior for him!

What I wrote in response to keep me off the news without totally selling my soul:

“Cramer burst through the door and began rolling around the floor while laughing. It was a disruption not uncommon to how he typically behaves, so I did not see anything that led me to believe he was injured. I saw nothing out of the ordinary in Cramer’s behavior that day.

I know you and I have met and spoken before about Cramer’s impulsive actions, but I have not seen much change in his daily behavior which it makes it difficult to know when he is hurt and when he is simply goofing around.

The expectation is that students are seated during instructional time, so I will continue to try to keep him seated during class instruction as best I can.

Thank you for checking in with me. I’m here to help!”

Sincerely,

…………………

The response: I got a scathing, follow-up email (cc’d to my principal of course) telling me that I was wrong about this and that I am supposed to take responsibility for the health and safety of each student and that as his protector it is up to me to show a caring and helpful persona and that no, it’s very obvious when a child is hurt and when he’s just playing around… blah blah blah. Here’s what happened next:

I decided not to put anything else in writing with this parent. I called him instead because at some point, you just can’t reason with denial and craziness. And in that phone call, I really just reiterated what I said in my email to him anyway. We agreed to disagree and that was that. And guess what? Even though he still blamed me, little Cramer’s behavior has been (a bit) better since the incident (It’s been three weeks as of the time I’m writing this). I absolutely refused to apologize for this one. I decided I would die on this hill if needed. 

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Scenario 3– Chance’s parents don’t understand the project requirements and have emailed me three times with three different questions about the assignment (it’s Chance’s project, not yours!!!). Plus, Chance hardly ever pays attention in class and I have given him the original assignment twice already. I showed samples from last year’s kids, I let students come in to my room to work on it during lunch each day last week so they could ask questions, and some kids have turned them in early and they’re already on display in the hallway.

What the parent wanted:

“I don’t know how we’re supposed to complete this project with so few instructions and vague explanations. How are the children supposed to know what to do when a college-educated adult can’t even figure it out?”

What I wanted to say but didn’t: Now I know why Chance is the way he is! Geez! This is HIS assignment, not YOURS! Maybe if you would hold him accountable for once instead of putting it all on me, he’d learn to be more responsible and take care of his own business! He’s in 6th grade and this is ridiculous for YOU to insult me and blame me when HE’S the one who never pays attention! It’s not like he’s been absent or anything, he just plays around and wastes time and doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do!

What I wrote in response to keep me off the news without totally selling my soul:

“Thank you for letting me know about your concerns with the assignment. Was Chance absent the two days that I spent in class going over the project with the students? That was two weeks ago and my days are starting to run together! Maybe he missed those days of instruction and that’s why he’s confused.

Something that might help Chance is that I have student samples from last year displayed in the classroom if he’d like to see what the final product might look like. 

I’ve also invited students to come to my room any day this week to eat lunch and work on the project so I can provide feedback. Chance has not taken advantage of this for extra help, and he hasn’t asked me any questions about the project so I had no idea he was struggling. Have him come to my room during lunch any day this week and I’ll do what I can to help him understand the project. 

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I’m always happy to help!”

Sincerely,

…………………..

The response: No response whatsoever. Chance never turned in the project. He ended up being taken out of school altogether and supposedly moved to another city in the area so he and his mom could be closer to the father. 

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I hope this helps you see that you really can’t reason with craziness. There are plenty of parents who are wonderful, hard-working people and it’s awesome to have their children in class. Like you, I wish I could just keep those kids and those families on my mind without letting the bad apples take over and consume all the positive energy we begin with each day.

Check out next week’s blog post which will follow up with three more scenarios and how I responded. Feel free to use them to help you, too! You’re not alone with this, and no parent should ever make you feel inferior or unjustly put the blame on you.

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