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How to Deal With Parents Backseat Teaching

In an ideal world, every teacher wants their student’s parents to actively support what’s taught in the classroom. But some parents take it too far. They micro-manage their child’s education, becoming a burden to the teacher in the process. They wear out the patience of the teacher and make teaching difficult.

Some parents may openly scrutinize what you’re teaching or even tell you how something “should be” taught. Or a parent may express their desire for their child to be placed in a more advanced class. You may find parents gossiping about you’re teaching with the other parents. Maybe the parent expects their child to inform you after school to complain to your administrator.

Let’s look at the parent who habitually questions your teaching decisions and judgments and how to deal with parents backseat teaching.

Understanding Parents who Backseat Teach

Don’t just deal with this parent on a surface level. Instead, go deeper by trying to comprehend what’s going on in the parent’s mind. If the parent goes low, don’t do the same. Don’t react negatively; you’ll most likely end up in a no-win situation if you do. Keep witty comebacks on the back burner of your mind. Instead, try to step into the parent’s shoes. It may help you to understand the parent’s motivation better.

Understanding their motivation may help you to identify what is triggering the parent. Often, a parent’s penchant to backseat teach is fear-based. This parent feels helpless and blames you, making you the scapegoat for their fear. Remind yourself this situation isn’t personal (even though it feels that way). This parent would be behaving this way with any other teacher.

Think of the parent’s interference as their way of coping with their deep-seated fears. They could be fearing their child won’t keep up with their peers or won’t be properly prepared for the adult world when the time comes. They want or need to know they’ve done everything they can to help their child’s development. Ultimately, this parent doesn’t want to feel like they are failing as a parent.  

Remember that this backseat teaching isn’t about the parent questioning your teaching; it’s about the parent’s anxiety and insecurity. The parent is projecting their fear upon you because you are in charge of educating their child. Work to avoid the knee-jerk stance that you should be left to do your job, and if you are, their child will be just fine. Listen and consider the idea that there may be a kernel of truth in what the parent is saying.

Now that you’ve done your best to understand the parent who backseat teaches, here are some policies you can put in place.

Be Proactive

  • Tell the parent you only respond to parent communications (email and phone) between 7 am and 5 pm on weekdays.
  • Inform the parent unscheduled or frequent parent-teacher conferences aren’t possible.
  • Ask them to take their concerns to the administration if your “solutions” do not meet their expectations.  

Set Boundaries Within Yourself

  • Don’t keep replaying scenarios with the parent over and over in your mind.
  • Don’t complain about the parent to others.
  • Don’t create negative fantasies about future interactions with the parent; you’ll only create what you fear.
  • If none of this helps, remind yourself that a school year is ten months long. The troublesome parent’s child will move on at the end of the year.
  • Be compassionate towards the parent and compassionate towards yourself.
  • Document all interactions and keep any electronic correspondence.

Ask for Support

The minute you sense you are not making constructive headway with a parent, go to your administrator to discuss the situation. You need to rely on their support in crafting a professional response to a challenging parent.

Never allow the situation to escalate to the point where the parent is bullying or harassing you. Abuse of any kind is not part of your job description. The administrator should be present during all interactions when all other attempts to resolve the situation fail. 

Ultimately the way to deal with a parent’s backseat teaching is to remember you both want the same thing. You want what’s best for the child. So start with this because you both can agree on it. The issue, then, is what does “what’s best” looks like. Be prepared to find common ground to work out a win-win solution.

Written by Ellie Hudovernik
Education World Contributor
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