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As a younger teacher, I consistently made what I now feel is a big classroom management mistake. I used to undercut my own authority in the classroom by threatening my students with a call to the big guns… the parents. The conventional wisdom is that nothing strikes more fear and immediate compliance from students than the mere mention of the dreaded call home. However, in the past two years, I honestly don’t think that I’ve called home with a behavioral complaint.
This may seem scandalous or a like a downright dereliction of classroom management duties. Allow me to clarify a few things before digging into the rationale behind ditching the call home. To be fair, I do still communicate with parents via emails, and I have an open door/open communication policy with parents. But I have a rule about calling home. The first call home has to positive… and they really all should be.
Parents don’t want the first interaction they have with their child’s teacher to be a negative experience. When I see a student doing things like making amazing artwork or consistently hitting deadlines with their work, I’ll call home. I especially like calling home when a student that has been struggling starts to turn it around.
When most teachers call home, it’s primarily to discuss issues with student behavior, not academic struggles.
It may be unavoidable to call home about academic struggles. However, I’m fortunate to work in a building that has a built-in intervention and enrichment period, so I can work with students during that time if needed. This has helped me a great deal in working with struggling students, so I don’t feel like I have to communicate so much with parents. When I do, a simple email about the missing assignments suffices.
I realized after a year or two of undercutting my authority by threatening to bring in the principal or calling the parents that it just wasn’t working. If a kid has a behavioral problem in my class, that problem is between the student and me, and we have to be the ones to fix it. There are any number of reasons why a student might be misbehaving in class. It’s my responsibility as a teacher to get to the bottom of it.
Is there really anything a parent can do hours after the misbehavior occurs and hours or days before you see that student again? I honestly don’t think it’s much.
Students’ behavior is contextual. If there is a behavior in your class that you don’t like, it’s your responsibility to fix it. This approach makes you the authority figure in the classroom.
As my own children have started attending school over the past four or five years, I’ve gotten my fair share of negative phone calls and emails home. Being on the other end of this type of communication has only solidified my belief that I shouldn’t call home anymore. Here’s a typical call I’ve received as a parent, “Just wanted you to know that your son is having a hard time keeping his hands to himself in line. He’s also laughing too much and being loud in the bathroom during break. Please talk with him about this.”
So, here’s how that conversation went. “Hey, stop acting like that in the hallway. Listen to your teachers. It’s really important to me and your mom that you respect and listen to your teachers. Understand?” “Yes.” What happened? The very next day the unwanted behavior at school continued. Of course it did! Children don’t connect an error in their behavior from 9:00 am to a stern parent lecture at 4:00 pm. They definitely don’t then internalize all that and then change said behavior the next morning. Kids just aren’t wired that way.
Children don’t connect an error in their behavior from 9:00 am to a stern parent lecture at 4:00 pm.
As a parent and a teacher, I’ve come to see this nitpicky call home as a lose-lose-lose situation. It won’t correct the unwanted behavior, it undermines your authority in the classroom, and it erodes parent-teacher rapport. Boiled down to its purest form, stripped of its niceties, here’s what a call home might sound like, “Your child is really a nuisance to me in class. The specific behavior that I find so annoying is only happening during the 45 minutes I see him each day. Regardless of this, I want you to fix your child for me. I don’t really want to take the time to solve what’s going on in my class that might be leading to this unwanted behavior, so again, please fix your child…. and I think you’re a bad parent.” This is why I don’t call home anymore.
What’s your philosophy on calling home?
Has it changed over time or stayed consistent?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors from across the nation and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University or any of its academic offerings.