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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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How to Manage the "Late to the Game" Parent

Holden Clemens (a pseudonym) is a teacher in Springfield, U.S.A. Here, he continues his series on practical tips for working with the gamut of exasperating educational archetypes.

Actual email I received the other day:

Dear mr. Clemens,

I was wondering if their was anything my son could do to bring up their grade in ur class. He currently has a D- and I would really like to see him earn a b or better. What can you do to help him. Thanks for your help.

I received this email on June 7th. The school year ended on June 10th. This was the first time I had heard from this parent. I wanted to respond with the following email:

Dear Late to the Game parent,

You are in luck. I just built a flux-capacitor, like the one they had in the movie Back to the Future! I figure we can go back in time and do a couple of things. First we will go back and see to it that you son does his homework. That will help his grade big time. The we can roll back to the beginning of the year and you can attend the Back-to-School night you missed where I explained my policy on extra credit (I don't offer it) and how I stress regular communication with parents. Then we can go back to the multiple emails I sent you about your son's troubling grades, and we can read those together. Now we just have to locate some plutonium and we will be able solve this problem in a matter of minutes.

See you at the clock tower,
HC

That is what I wanted to send, but instead I nicely said it was too late to do any extra work and I wish we had talked earlier and a solution could have been found.

The Late to the Game parent is one that many teachers encounter.  They are nowhere to be found until the realization of failure hits them and they want to move mountains to get their children to pass. I will never fault a parent for wanting to protect their child from failing, but there is a point where it is too late to do anything. As a teacher, you can do some simple things to keep parents informed so they are never late to the game.

1. Keep an up-to-date website. This allows all parents and students to see what assignments are due and what projects and tests are coming up. Allowing parents to have access to this information is very helpful in the long run.

2. Pass out a syllabus that details all class policies regarding homework, tests, projects, late work, and extra credit. Have students take two copies home. One for the house and one for the parents to sign. Collect the signed syllabi and keep them in a folder. I do this in hopes of never having to use them for the year. The few times I have pulled them out, the parents stopped their arguments and one student was busted for forgery. Ha! Also, post the syllabus on your website.

3. Send emails or letters home (that should be signed) when students fall below a C. Hopefully this will not be many letters or emails, but it should not take much time. More communication is always best. Keep copies of the letters and emails and store them some place safe.

4. Talk to the kids. Sometimes kids are so out of it, they do not even know they are failing. These conversations prove to be very useful. Sometimes they need a kick in the pants to get them on track if nobody is doing it at home.

When parents show up at the door wanting more time for their students to complete an assignment or extra work to bring up their grade, just point to the attempts you have made in the past to forestall these issues, and politely tell them it's too late. In most cases, if the above steps are implemented, you should have no problem dealing with these Late to the Game parents. If they still want to give you grief, just hand them a copy of Back to the Future, and wish them luck.  

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Jeanie Robinson's picture

Years ago, I was teaching sixth grade at a middle school. I gave each student a colored folder in which we put all of our graded work. Students kept their folders and took them home at the end of the year.

One year, a parent came in to see me at 4 pm towards the end of the year and wanted to know why her son was failing. I was very busy at the time and was caught off guard and alone in my part of the building. I tried to be polite and ask her to come and see me during the day but this didn't work. I got out the child's folder to discover that it only had 3 sheets of paper in it. This infuriate the parent to the point that security had to be called.

Now, I do just about everything on your list except that I tend to email very often. I even do a weekly newsletter for parents. I have never been in that situation again. I think communication is the key.

Thanks for your article!

sm1974l's picture
sm1974l
I'm a new teacher. Currently a substitute until I get a classroom of my own

Thank you for the information. I am definitely going to share this list with my new teacher network. I am surprised to see that very few articles talk about consistent positive communications with students and parents. I would love to know if you have any suggestions. I feel like I have a wonderful communication plan (at least one positive phone call per student each grading period)it just sounds so overwhelmingly time consuming. I think that having a positive repertoire with parents makes it so much easier when the more difficult calls need to be made.
Thank you again for your information.

Keith Schoch's picture
Keith Schoch
Sixth Grade Reading/LA Teacher from Bedminster, NJ

Not only does it protect you as the teacher, but it shows parents and students alike how they can be successful in your classroom.

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