For Teachers

Parent-Teacher Peace: 6 Rules for Better Cooperation

The hardest part of any teacher’s job? The parents. Here’s how teachers of students with ADHD can encourage teamwork, unearth solutions, and make a difference in the life of a child.

Teacher helping student with classwork at the beginning of the new school year
An elementary age student getting help on an assignment from their teacher.

When were you first called to teach? Were you inspired and impacted by a teacher in elementary or high school? Did you dream of joining a movement to solve society’s problems? Regardless, here’s hoping you didn’t just do it for the summers off!

Too often, making a difference — in the classroom and in life — is grueling work. And even more often, the very people who should be helping most are getting in the way. If you ever struggle with your students’ parents, I have a few ideas that might help.

Healthy working relationships begin with respect! No matter the background, level of education, or economic status, a parent deserves your respect.

If you’re working hard with their child in your classroom, assume they are working even harder at home. If you’re condescending or unkind, the parent won’t feel free and open to ask questions critical to the student’s success. No one likes to be made to feel stupid or to be judged.

Mutual respect does not mean mutual agreement, but it is necessary for the conversation that works toward solutions. Most parents understand that teachers hold the key to success at school, but many have had bad experiences with the school system and tend to be guarded and skeptical. See through that to their desire to help their child.

A child is a parent’s greatest investment in so many ways. If a student is struggling in class, think through very carefully how you will present these struggles. Show kindness and concern, no matter how frustrated you feel.

No parent enjoys hearing negative feedback about their child, justified or not. Steer clear of the landmine of “bad parenting” — saying it or even thinking it. Unless you have first-hand knowledge of your student’s home life, (and even then) don’t ever presume anything.

Parents of children with ADHD endure the judgment of others daily based on nothing more than appearances. Don’t be that short-sighted.

In the same way, show compassion to their child in class. Don’t make fun of the student in front the entire class or share their struggles. Discourage other students from being mean or gossipy. Know that this “special” students needs your encouragement and support.

Yes, you have the degree. Yes, it is your classroom. And yes, teaching is your area of expertise. But there is always something more to learn.

Many parents of children with ADHD are VERY knowledgeable about attention deficit disorder and may offer valuable insight on how to work with such students. It’s okay if you don’t know all the answers — a parent who has been guiding their child through ADHD should have greater knowledge and insight into the disorder than a typical teacher. Be open, and honest about the extent of your knowledge and understanding of ADHD.

It’s possible that a parent just might have that next breakthrough strategy for you.

Retain your sense of humor while dealing with disgruntled and frustrated parents. It may just keep you sane.

It’s a bonus to meet parents who share your sense of humor, as that can definitely help bridge the gaps in otherwise tense meetings. Test the waters of humor very cautiously, though, so your attempts at levity aren’t misinterpreted. And keep in mind that most kids with ADHD actually have a very keen sense of humor.

Unfortunately, they are not so good at judging when it is appropriate to be funny, but try to keep your annoyance at bay by remembering that they are only after a laugh.

Avoid a “my way is the only way” attitude. Students who learn in non-traditional ways need teachers who understand that sometimes things just need to be done “differently.” Whether it’s extending test times for particular students or finding unusual ways to gauge their progress in class, your ability to stray off the beaten path and bend some rules may make all the difference.

Let the parents know that you are willing to consider making changes to your classroom routine to accommodate their child.

Children with ADHD epitomize “outside of the box”, so when it comes time to create an educational plan, put aside most of what works with typical students and get creative.

Take into consideration the tasks/subjects/activities at which the student excels. Encouraging their interests and strengths helps build up competency, confidence, and self-esteem. Hands-on parents can really help in this area, pointing out interests and skills you may not be aware of. Certainly, if a parent proposes an unorthodox idea of how their child can be more productive in class or meet academic requirements, be open to that!