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How Teachers Can Work with Divorced Parents

Julia- I’ve got a lot of divorced parents in my class. How do I go about conferences? Do I do them separately or invite both sets to one conference? It’s probably a silly question, and I don’t want to ask the teachers in my grade until I get a better idea what other schools do. Thanks a bunch- Angie

Dear Angie,

The question you asked is not silly; rather it demands a sensitive response to a complicated situation. Not only that, but it is also a question that thousands of teachers face every day. Thanks for asking it.

Developing a strong working relationship with your students’ parents is never easy. When those parents are divorced, it is even more important for teachers to be sensitive to the needs of their students and both sets of parents. Here are a few tips to help you cultivate a successful relationship with everyone involved.

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"Be aware of the times of the year that may be more stressful for the children of divorced parents. Holidays, in particular, may bring out latent fears and concerns in children."

Take the time to find out who the custodial parent is. Your school probably has this information in the child’s permanent records. The custodial parent is the person to whom all correspondence and primary contact should be directed. This is the person you invite to attend conferences and contact when the need arises.

If both parents show up for a conference, treat them both with respect. Even in the most amicable of divorces, there is bound to be underlying tension. Stay focused on the needs of the child and direct the conference with that in mind. Avoid overly personal revelations from parents who want to dish the dirt on the other one if you possibly can. Remember, your first concern is always to work in the best interest of the child.

If the relationship between the parents is a sound one where they strive to work together for the good of their child, then the custodial parent will keep the other one involved. If not, it is not the role of a teacher to involve that other parent. If the school needs to do so, then a counselor would assume that responsibility.

Always, always work to protect your student from embarrassment over his or her family situation. Even though, as adults, we are accustomed to relationships that do not always work out, in the eyes of a young person, the broken relationship is one that is intensely personal and loaded with emotion. Always address letters home not just to “…the parents of…” but to “…the parents or guardians of…” Try to never say something such as, “I will call your mother if you do that again…” Substitute words such as “your family” or “your home” to avoid hurting your student.

Be aware of the times of the year that may be more stressful for the children of divorced parents. Holidays, in particular, may bring out latent fears and concerns in children. Another time that could be problematic is events such as a school play, banquet, or a sporting event where both parents may attend.

Some schools also offer support groups and counseling for those students whose parents are divorced. If you can steer a student in that direction, you may find it beneficial.

Again, thanks for asking a question that many of us face, Angie. Your skills as a diplomat are always required in any parent conference, but especially so in one where the child’s parents may not always work together well. Remember, always keep your students’ welfare uppermost.

Best wishes,
Julia

Related Dear Julia Columns:
Can Older “New” Teachers Find Jobs?
Handling Mountains of Paperwork and IEPs
The Back-2-School Checklist for Teachers
Struggling With Teaching Evaluations
10 Tips for Struggling First-Year Teachers
Class Management Advice for Student Teachers
How Teachers Can Work with Divorced Parents
and more…
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