The Art of Communication - Speaking With Parents From Nasty to Amazing!

Written by: April Vargo


Getting an email or a phone call from a parent used to make me cringe.  On the other end of that message was usually a parent who called or wrote something in haste, something that was nasty, threatening, or mean hearted.  They felt that their kid didn't get a grade they deserved, didn't get a solo they should have, or didn't get the part they wanted.  When such events happened things got nasty. 

I remember teaching in the classroom, being so excited for what was to come, and feeling so unprepared when reality finally set in.  My first job, I was in charge of teaching over 500 students each semester.  I can proudly say I knew everyone of them by name.  I didn't know all of their parents, but you better believe they all knew who I was. 

I had actually moved back into the hometown I grew up in, and found that some of the families and parents were those who I knew growing up, and many were new faces.  However,  I couldn't go anywhere without bumping into a family or a student I had taught.  Out at a restaurant with friends having a cocktail - oh there's Mr. and Mrs. So and So with their eyes glued to you all night...... out on a date - oh hey family of students I teach..... in Target buying personal items - hey can you tell me how my kid is doing, let's have a conference here in the aisle while you're holding your feminine products needed for that month.  

When report cards came out I would literally have to sneak out of the building for a good week or so.  Parents would be furious if and when their kid didn't get an A.  My email would blow up, I would be left threatening messages or emails, people called my home number, parents would show up and scream in my face.  I would kindly try to remind them that their child hadn't turned in the work, failed assignments or projects, and that parents had been notified throughout the entire semester.  I would have parents sign their child's failed assignments or projects, so I would show them the papers they signed.  I would always get, "jeeze, it's just music, what does it matter?"  So I would politely ask, "good, if it doesn't matter why are you here screaming and threatening me?"  

Needless to say, I had a very bad taste in my mouth when it came to dealing with parents of students.  Even the nice ones, you were always afraid they might turn on you.  You started wondering how blaming a teacher is helping their child, and is this job really worth all of the hassle?  

Fast-forward a decade later and I love getting correspondence from parents.  Since going solo and opening my own business / school, I have the best relationship with my students' parents.  I found myself wondering why? Because these kids and parents want to be here.  They would never ask, "it's just music, what does it matter?"  Instead they see value, they see their child flourishing and they want their child to succeed. 

My students' parents are truly a partner in their growth.  I provide weekly updates on what their child did they day, what went well, what needs to be improved, and any conversations or revelations that happened during the 30 minutes.  

I have actually found that many of them have become close friends.  I receive the nicest letters from parents telling me about what happened in their lives or the lives of their children, the growth they've seen, or sometimes just the fun they had throughout that week / weekend.  They make it a point to send positive notes.  I find myself, reciprocating.  When you have amazing people in your life, you want them to know, you want to tell them how important they are, and they're not just someone who's in and out of your life for 30 minutes each week. 

The messages that get sent between people build each other up as well as build a strong relationship between all parties.  When people feel appreciated and invested they genuinely want what's best for each party.  The relationship isn't just one-sided, it's not just what can you do for me, but instead, how can we work together to be successful.  

Many of my students and their families have made an impact on my life, just as I hope I have on theirs. 

How people talk to each other is so incredibly important.  The art of communication is lost on many people, especially when it's so easy to sit behind a keyboard and be brave.  However, if you've ever met some of these people in real life you learn they are timid, cower, and want nothing more than to blend in the background.  The minute they get a keyboard in their hands they say some of the nastiest things.  

After time has gone on, I actually started to feel sorry for these people.  What must your life be like?  I can't imagine what it feels like to be so unhappy or feel so inadequate.  It has to be lonely.  

Speaking your mind is absolutely important, but speak your mind to the person directly.  Think about what it is you're saying, how can you be productive and still get your point across.  When do you reach out to someone, just when you need something or when you want to voice a complaint?  Do you ever reach out to say thank you, or praise someone?  

People don't hear enough nice comments throughout their days.  Sometimes it takes one simple message to totally transform someone's day or their own perspective of themselves.  Now, I get it, you don't want to sit there all day long patting someone on the back for every little thing they do, but when something matters to you or you feel something has made an impact, it's important to make sure that person knows.  

Words matter, how you use them is a choice.....choose wisely.   




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