Teaching Tip: Replying to an Angry Parent Email
It happens to every teacher. You fire up your computer one morning and find a lengthy, scathing email from a parent, accusing you of treating his or her child unfairly, of not providing adequate assistance, or of some other offense. Resist the urge to fire off a retort denying exaggerations or inaccuracies. Follow these steps to compose a professional and tempered response that will address the parent's concerns and help you avoid a lengthy dispute.
- Print the email to have a hard copy to work with.
- Read through the email again, identifying and highlighting any direct questions.
- Look for any factual inaccuracies - not impressions, but inaccurate facts, such as a date, a grade, etc.
- Begin your reply with a statement that acknowledges receiving the email: Dear Mrs. Parent, Thank you for your email and for sharing your concerns.
- Write direct responses to any embedded questions you found in the email: 'Johnny earned a 70 on his unit test and a 60 on the last quiz. His current average is 68.'
- If you must report on a student's behavior, make sure you are doing nothing more than reporting the facts. So, rather than 'Johnny's behavior in class yesterday was terrible,' write, 'Yesterday in class, Johnny took another child's notebook, wrote on his desk, and chose not to return to his seat when asked to do so.'
- Correct any inaccuracies in the parent's email, 'I see that you wrote that you were concerned that Johnny did not go to recess yesterday. Please be assured that after a ten minute time out, he did attend recess with the other students.'
- End your reply politely and invite the parent to follow up. 'Thank you again for your email. Should you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact me.'
- Do not comment or respond to any insults or accusations unless it is with factual information to correct an inaccuracy. Do not respond to comments regarding whether or not you care about the child. It is very important to remain professional.
- Sign your email with both your first and last name, 'Best, Tammy Teacher,' rather than with the name your students call you, 'Ms. Teacher.'
- Before sending your reply, use spell check and a grammar checker to be sure there are no errors in writing mechanics. Then read the reply out loud to yourself to be sure it is what you want to say. Send your reply once you are sure it is ready.
Remember that the parent who writes an email like this feels he or she is protecting his or her child. It really isn't personal, despite how hurtful it may seem to be. The very best thing you can do for the parent, the child, and yourself is to choose not to engage in emotionally�charged retorts. Always keep in mind that your primary responsibility is to provide the parent with the information he or she is requesting.