George Lucas Educational Foundation
Teaching Strategies

Responding Professionally to Unreasonable Requests From Parents

See sample responses teachers can use to be polite but firm when presented with irrational demands from parents or caregivers.

May 15, 2024
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During my college years, I worked at the counter at a hamburger café. One day, an irritated customer presented me with his mostly eaten hamburger and demanded a refund because the meat was undercooked. Despite the fact that he had eaten about 90 percent of his burger, I offered him excellent customer service as I was trained to do; I cheerfully gave him a refund along with an apology.

As a teacher with two decades of experience, I think back to this “the customer is always right” scenario when a parent or caregiver makes an unreasonable request of me as their child’s teacher. Of course, I want to provide excellent customer service in terms of active listening, empathy, and professionalism; however, my classroom is not a hamburger café.

Instructional coach Julie Mason describes the teacher-parent “customer service” relationship in the We Are Teachers article “Teaching Is Not Customer Service”: “Parents are not customers, and public schools aren’t a business. Taxpayers may fund teacher salaries, but at the end of the day, if there are any ‘customers,’ those customers are the kids we teach.”

If you’ve been teaching for more than a few years, you’ve probably encountered preposterous or annoying requests from parents that put you in an awkward situation. Do you pander to a parent’s request, or do you stand up for what’s best for the student?

The next time you’re presented with an unreasonable request from a parent, try the following suggested responses—all taken from my actual experience as a teacher—to give you the confidence to stand firm while also maintaining empathy and professionalism.

8 Ways to Respond to Unreasonable Demands

1. A parent asks for an assignment to be redone or a grade increase.

Sample response: “Based on the criteria of the rubric that was shared, the final project was evaluated as 7/10. I am happy to meet with Chris to review what he can improve for the next project.

2. A parent heard that “all the students failed” the recent assessment and wants you to offer a retake to the entire class.

Sample response: “Unfortunately, that rumor reflects the perception of the class; however, it is far from accurate. A few students did not perform as well as they predicted, and, conversely, a few students performed strongly. This assessment serves as feedback for the students and for me on what topics we need to review more.”

3. A parent wants to meet with you tomorrow morning (or right now).

Sample response: “I am happy to schedule a meeting or a phone call with you. My availability is Wednesday after 3 or Thursday before 8. Do any of those times work for your schedule?”

4. “Is there anything my child can do to earn extra credit or bring up his/her average for the term?”

Sample response: “All of the planned assessments have been completed for the term; however, I’d like to talk with you about how Jessie can get a strong start in the upcoming new term.”

5. “My child was up late for a soccer game last night. Can she take the test scheduled for today another time?”

Sample response: “Because the students had five days of notice for the test and a review day, they had ample time to prepare for the assessment. I am available before school for 15 minutes if she would like to come in for last-minute questions.”

Note: If this request comes as an email, you could also reply to it after their child has taken the test, making it a moot point. You do not have to respond to parent emails immediately.

6. “My child is unable to attend any of the tutorial sessions you offer. Are you available another time to help her with her homework?

Sample response: “My tutorial times are before school Tuesdays and during lunch Thursdays. Is there a possibility that Rachel could rearrange her schedule to attend one of these times? I can also meet with her for 15 minutes after school Monday, but only next week, not on a regular basis.”

7. “My child should be placed in advanced-level math; can she switch classes?”

Sample response: “Please refer to the placement criteria that are published on our department website [provide link if it is published]. If Larkin’s [grades or test scores or prerequisites] meet the placement criteria, I would be glad to meet with you to discuss which class would be the best learning environment for him at this time.”

8. “My child does not get along with Cara. Can you make sure they do not play together during the school day?”

Sample response: “In my experience as an educator, I often observe that children move in and out of friendships—this is quite normal for their developmental stage. I will closely observe both of them at recess today. If they need to give each other space, I will step in.”

Note: If a parent is worried about their child being bullied or physically harmed (even if it seems to be an unjustified concern), stay in frequent communication with the concerned parent so they can feel confident that their child is safe at school.

Keep in mind that these are generic suggestions. Trust your professional intuition to make adjustments for extenuating circumstances. Sometimes rules need to be broken.

Additionally, even if you use the preceding sample responses, some parents will keep pushing to get what they want. However, many parents make these requests only to see if their request is a possibility and quickly back off when you professionally say no. When you’re deciding how to respond to a parent request, remember to stay true to a solution that is best for the student. As professionals, we can partner with parents toward this goal.

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