It’s inevitable. We will all get that truly negative, nasty, hurtful, and uncalled for parent email. These can and will come to us for a variety of reasons throughout our teaching careers. Generally, a parent is upset and wishes to place the blame on the teachers because the alternative is taking that blame on themselves and their child. This is difficult for parents, especially where their precious babies are concerned.
If I am being truly honest, I have sent my own strongly worded emails to teachers as a parent. Some I have regretted and others I have not. As parents we can make the mistake of not fully understanding a situation and reacting on emotions instead of logic. I try to remember this when I receive these emails from parents.
That said, these emails still upset me terribly. Whether they question my professionalism, my dedication, or my intellect, I still take these emails as a personal attack. It is so tempting to fire back a hot response as we work to defend ourselves. These are usually not very effective at diffusing and/or clearing up the situation, and can often lead to trouble from administration. (I have learned the hard way.)
These five tips will help you respond to these emails effectively and without trouble from your administrators.
1. Take Time…
My first and best piece of advice is to take time, a lot of time, before you respond. If you respond right away, you will respond through your emotions and this will likely read as either defensive or accusatory. Sometimes when I am really upset by a particular email, I will respond on a Word document. It allows me to vent my immediate frustrations and emotions, without the ability to hit send. When I draft my actual response, I may pull pieces from this Word document, but often, I will steer clear of that initial vent session entirely. Take time to calm down and get perspective on the situation. My school district has a policy that we respond to emails within 24 hours. For these particular emails, I wait 23 hours to respond unless there is an immediate need or concern.
2. Call Instead…
I do not particularly enjoy making phone calls to parents, especially when I know that parent is upset with me. That said, I have found that parents are far less likely to say those rude and/or hurtful things than they are to write them in a faceless email. This phone conversation can usually clear up the misunderstanding and resolve the heated situation. As an added plus, there is no paper trail that can end up in the hands of administration.
3. Set up a Meeting.
If the situation is particularly tense or you feel that a parent is being truly inappropriate, I would recommend a quick email response that asks for a parent/teacher conference or meeting. Setting up a meeting for later in the week will allow time for the parents to calm down and get some perspective on the situation before that time. It will also allow you time to plan an appropriate response or accommodation if this is needed. Depending on family history or the particular request, I will invite administration to join the meeting. This step will largely depend on the type of support you receive from your administration. Hopefully you feel supported, but I know that is not always the case. I am very lucky to work with a team that listens to and backs up their teachers. I know I could bring a concern to them, and share my plan for the meeting, and feel that they would be ready and willing to have my back, so to speak. If you are lucky enough to be in a building like this, use these people as supports. Invite them to the meeting to show the family that you are a united front.
I have found that in many cases the families do not wish to meet in person. They are generally satisfied that they have vented their frustrations, however inappropriate.
4. Check it With a Teacher Friend
If you feel that an email response is the best course of action, then check that response with a teacher friend. They will be able to read the situation without the emotions, and help you draft an appropriate response to the family.
5. Set Clear Boundaries on Your Time
Early in the year, I work to establish boundaries with my time. I do not respond to emails at night or on the weekends. At the start of each new school year, students and families will email after hours expecting a response. I simply respond the following morning with an answer or solution for the families. They then come to expect my responses during the work day. Though there are days that I will work past my teacher contract hours, I never check my emails. This has helped my teacher sanity more than you can imagine! Draw that line in the sand for yourself, and you will be surprised at the change it will make in your teacher life!
At the end of the day, you just can’t let those parents get to you. If there is some element of truth, or some type of growth opportunity to be had, take it, learn from it, and then let it go. We are not perfect, we could never expect to be; yet society often does place that very expectation upon us. We can only do the best we can, with the time and resources we have. Trust in yourself, and don’t let these parents and their opinions define you. Leave that email, go home, spend time with family and/or friends, read a good book, drink a glass of wine, take a bath, or take a nice long nap. Treat yourself to some chocolate and let yourself forget about that email. Your focus can and should be on the students in front of you each day; I give you permission to let the other stuff go!