It is rare as a secondary school supply teacher to interact with parents, but in primary school, it can be a daily routine the same as any other.
Given the nature of your temporary relationship with the school, it can be disconcerting for parents (and children) to see an unfamiliar face at the start or end of the day, particularly if a parent has a direct need to speak to the class teacher.
In addition to all your normal greatness, it’s important to manage these encounters in such a way as to leave the parents reassured of the care you are giving their children and that the school you are in is represented in the best way possible.
I would view these interactions with perhaps the perspective of good customer service. You want the parent to feel like they have been heard and that their needs will be met. Be friendly, polite and calm and you’ll be off to a great start.
Make your introductions
Have the confidence in your position to introduce yourself, and explain why you’re there. Simply saying ‘Miss X isn’t here today and I’m going to be looking after the class’ can provide some initial reassurance that you haven’t suddenly replaced the class teacher!
Find out about the students
Make a note of everything discussed in the conversation – their name, their child’s name, etc. They will often ask you about things that have occurred or will occur outside of your work with the children and you will often be in the dark about what it relates to! So, again, if need be, tell the person you are talking to that you will just make a note so that you get the details correct. This will further the reassurance you give.
Provide helpful alternatives
Also, offer something! Never, ever, give a flat unhelpful response such as ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I don’t know, sorry’. Always at least offer a pathway to what they need to show that you will act on their request. So alternatively, say ‘I’ll find the right person to help you with that…’ or ‘I don’t know sorry, but I will look into it for you at break time’. You may not be able to help the person directly, but you don’t want to make the situation any worse by ignoring or dismissing a request from someone.
If in doubt, seek assistance
Where possible, allow a familiar face to intervene on your behalf. If, for example, you have a TA in your class who the parents see every day, you might decide that it’s best if they speak to the parents instead.
At the very least, simply consider the parents’ perspective – how would you want to be dealt with in that situation if it was your child at their school?
About our Community Expert
Paul is an actor and English teacher from Northern Ireland. Alongside his acting career working in theatre, film and television across the UK, he also teaches in primary and secondary schools throughout London.
Paul provides performance coaching to both individual clients and businesses.