By Marilyn Friend, Ph.D.
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Representative to the Representative Assembly (RA) for the Teacher Education Division (TED)
Most of the time, everything at schools moves along smoothly. Teachers teach, students learn, and the days fly by. Interactions among teachers, administrators, and parents occur as needed, and they are clear and constructive. Occasionally, however, that is not the way it is. Perhaps in a co-taught class, the general education teacher directs the special educator to run to the office to make the missing copies of the assignment, and the special educator bristles at what is perceived as an order. Perhaps a teacher and a paraprofessional have a disagreement. Suddenly, you might be at a loss for words.
I wish I could give you an entire course on how to deal with difficult situations, but that’s not exactly possible in a blog. Here are just a few ideas to keep in mind when confronting difficult or awkward interactions:
- If you’re the person who may have caused a problem, step right up, take responsibility, and try to repair any damage done. If you realize you spoke sharply to a paraprofessional, you can apologize (but don’t bother with explanations). That sounds simple, but it’s surprising how often it’s not done. It’s also not reasonable for the other person to immediately say, “That’s ok.” If you hurt someone feelings, it might take a little time for the person to get past it. Apologize and then back off.
- If you’re the recipient of what you perceive as an inappropriate comment, you should raise your concern as son as possible. You might say, “When you sent me to the office today to make extra copies, it made me think that I was an assistant and not a colleague, and I’m concerned that the students saw it that way, too.” Most important is to stop speaking at that point to see what the other person has to say. S/he might apologize, in which case you’ve had a successful outcome in a difficult interaction. The person might explain (I didn’t mean anything by it—it just had to be done), and then you may have to decide whether to try again or just let it go this time. If the person communicates that duplicating should be something you do, then you might want to step back from the situation and plan for a longer interaction that would allow both of you to clarify roles and responsibilities in the classroom.
- If you’re interacting with a parent and you’re unsure how to respond, the best strategy is to let the parent know you’ll get back in touch. Perhaps the parent has expressed dissatisfaction with his/her child’s program or services, or perhaps the parent accuses you or another teacher of being unfair. The strategy that can help is to say something like this: “I need to do some checking based on the information you’ve shared with me. When could I call you in a day or two so that we can continue our conversation?” Adjusting the language of this type of comment, what you want to communicate is that you’re taking the parent’s comments seriously but want to investigate. This provides you with time to do just that and to plan how to respond.