Aug 03 2008

Common teacher mistake #6

Common teacher mistake #6 — Telling a misbehaving student that you are calling home.

Calling parents is a great thing to do. Even for students whose parents don’t have a lot of control them, a parent call is still pretty annoying. In the beginning of the year, once I identify some distruptive students, I am very quick to make a parent call. I’ve found that a great majority of the parents are supportive, and I almost always see improvement in student behavior and behavior of the rest of the class (once that student gives me some free advertising with “He called my mother!”).

But parental calls are most effective if they are done without warning. I know how it feels to be in a class where a kid is being distruptive. You try to get him to cooperate, but then in your mind you decide you’re calling home that night. Here’s where new teachers make a big mistake. They figure if they are calling home anyway, they might as well get the kid to behave for the rest of the period by letting him know you’re calling home. Then, anything else he does that day will be ‘on the record.’

But there are problems with telling him. First of all, you might not be able to reach the parent that night, for various reasons, and then you look foolish for threating something and not following up on it.

Second, the kid is not going to get quiet once you say it. He is going to act worse because he wants you (or you and the whole class if you said it publicly) to think that he doesn’t care if you call his parent, even though he does.

Third, the kid, knowing that you are calling home now has a chance to either intercept the call and say they’re not home, or to prepare the parent for the call by giving ‘his side of the story.’

It takes a lot of patience to hold in the news that you’re calling home, but it’s well worth it. I taught middle and high school so the kid was going to be gone in about 30 minutes, but even that was hard. In elementary, it’s even harder.

But, by keeping it to yourself you get the full benefit of the parental call.

6 Responses

  1. Let me improve upon your very good advice if I may: for the first month or so of school, make only positive calls home. In fact, it’s worth doing some due diligence on your mostly likely to misbehave students, by talking to teachers in the earlier grades, and being especially diligent and lavish in your praise to those parents. Why make positive calls only? Face it, your worst behaved students are almost certainly recidivists. Every time a teacher has called home in the past few years, it’s been trouble. Suddenly, you’re calling with good news. Mom is surprised. VERY surprised–and grateful. Now, come October or November, when you’re calling to report that he or she is slipping, you’ve buit up crucial credibility and good will.

  2. garyrubinstein

    I think that for elementary teachers, that’s something feasible, but for middle and high school, I can’t see having the time to make all those ‘good’ calls.

  3. June Park

    I agree with you, Gary. I have 130 high school students, and we are just about to begin our 3rd week of school. I can’t imagine, as a second year teacher, trying to make 130 calls home, as most of my kids are behaving very well, at least right now!

    On a separate note, Gary, I just wanted to say thank you for your posts on this blog. They are realistic and provide me with a laugh or two about my first year, which wasn’t all that awful but wasn’t super, either.

    2007 New Mexico CM

  4. Laura

    I am glad someone mentionned the good calls to parents.
    We have applied this policy last year in our school. Every parent receives one call once a week; the kids who struggle receive a daily call.
    The calls help the kids who struggle be reminded:
    - homework to do
    - we care about their SUCCESS
    - we are here to HELP them

    Obviously, if you are a UNDER-achieving teacher, your school is not for you.

  5. garyrubinstein

    Laura, I see you’re really into the OVER / UNDER achieving thing. I guess I’ve never really thought of myself as an OVER achiever, meaning that I didn’t pull all-nighters making sure my term papers had the perfect plastic covering. I find those kind of OVER achiever’s not very time efficient. And that was my point that it’s unrealistic for a NEW middle or high school teacher to think that they HAVE TO call every parent. For some people who are not superheros (and most TFAers aren’t) this task could ‘break their backs’ as they’re trying to do so many other things in the first week. My purpose is to be someone who tells them that’s it’s OK if that task is too much for them. It’s true that TFA is a lot more difficult to get into than it was in 1991 when I was a corps member, but my sense is that teaching is still not easy for most of the new people. Maybe it was for you, but everyone’s not as great as you in their first year.

  6. Margaret

    This is great advice. Positive calls home are a great way to establish credibility, but obviously this is not always feasible if you have 100+ students, so the teacher has to find other ways to reassure the parent and child that s/he is on their side.

    On another note, to you, Gary, you have great advice and a valuable viewpoint. That said, sometimes you say unnecessary things that make me want to unbookmark your blog. I.e.: “everyone’s not as great as you in their first year.” Maybe I interpreted that incorrectly as dripping in sarcasm, but I don’t think so. These kind of comments and open critiques you make throughout your blog make it hard for me to respect you and therefore your point of view. The other example that gets on my nerves is how you copy new CMs blog posts and tear into them rather than giving respectful constructive criticism. At least don’t directly link to their blogs.

    My two cents. I really do find your commentary helpful, and will continue to read your blog because as a teacher it helps me improve.

    And maybe my opinion is just because I really hate sarcasm.

    Thanks for your hard work in the field of education.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
Houston
Grade
High School
Subject
Math

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