Pop QuizSecondary Education

Pop Quiz : Wait Til My Folks Hear About You

I’m quite aware that many of my Pop Quiz posts have been about the various differences between my own country’s education system and that of the USA. One day I’ll probably find the courage to branch out and write about something else, but today I’d like to discuss a difference in teachers’ day-to-day lives that really struck me when I visited my friend’s school in the USA: the issue of parental contact.


In my school, and indeed in most of Scottish state education, parents and classroom teachers are not generally in direct contact throughout the year. Parents aren’t allowed to email me or telephone me directly if they have a question or a problem, and I’m not allowed to contact them directly either. All teacher-parent contact goes through the Head of Department. If a parent wants to complain about me, they call or email my boss and they relay the message to me. Likewise, any letters of concern or praise that I wish to send go through the same person.


I’m fully used to this system and so I was surprised when I visited my friend’s school in the USA and saw that parents could email teachers directly and that they were given the telephone extensions for teachers’ individual classrooms. My gut reaction to this was one of horror, accustomed as I was to my own system. The idea of parents being able to directly contact me whenever they felt like it seemed intrusive and unpleasant. However, the more I thought about this system and my own, and the longer I worked in teaching, the more my views changed.


I think my initial surprise and trepidation came partly from unfamiliarity and partly from lack of experience. Now that I’ve been teaching for several years, I’ve come across many situations (positive and negative) where it would have been really useful to have been able to get in touch with a parent directly. Sure, our system keeps us “insulated” from the types of parents who we might not with to deal with, but it also keeps an artificial and not entirely helpful barrier between us and all parents.


We do have one point of direct parental contact; each year, each one of our classes has a Parents’ Evening where we take appointments and meet with parents to discuss pupil progress. Because this is the one and only direct point of contact between teacher and parent, these evenings can sometimes be a little fraught. It’s never happened to me thankfully, but I’ve been aware of several colleagues who have had unpleasant and even aggressive experiences at these evenings, possibly due to the fact that it was the only time both parties were in direct contact. On the other side, appointments often run massively over their allocated times because teachers and parents get caught up chatting about all the little things that they’ve been unable to discuss all year.


I’d be really interested to hear your views about either of these systems of parental contact, and to hear about other systems from other places.


What do you think of my “no contact” system? What about the system that my American friends were used to, with unrestrained contact? If you’re a parent, do you have any positive or negative experiences of teacher contact? What about those of you who are teachers?


The Pop Quiz is a question for you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays at 3pm ET.


Featured Image: Dave Dougdale

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Alasdair is a high school English teacher in Scotland. He's a passionate skeptic and science fan, which is why he runs a discussion club for young skeptics in his school. He loves space and astronomy more than pretty much anything and is studying for a physics degree in his spare time in order to become qualified to teach science.

He lives with a cat made of distilled hatred and spikes.


  1. July 5, 2013 at 4:51 pm —

    In Costa Rica parents who want to talk/complain/discuss something with a teacher may request a meeting, which is generally ok, but I do think that sometimes that may be problematic. First of all, many parents want their children to be treated like royalty, and second, many are plainly wimpy assholes. So, I do prefer the no contact system over the nosy parent encouragement system. It is of course fine when parents get involved, but there must be a limit to their involvement. I’d be willing to think that e-mails could be fine, as they are less disruptive of the teacher’s work, and they can be easily ignored (which might be a pro or a con, depending on the teacher). In general, I believe less contact is better.

  2. July 5, 2013 at 6:16 pm —

    Yeah, I agree that email is probably a reasonable middle ground. I wouldn’t mind that kind of contact at all, and if someone was getting too aggressive or demanding then it wouldn’t be too difficult to bring in someone else. Your “treated like royalty” comment is very familiar to me – the most awkward conversations I’ve had with parents have involved children who are treated like this at home but who act like little monsters in the classroom. I agree that less contact is probably better overall, mostly because I feel that this helps to foster the “professional barrier” that all teachers need to develop between themselves and their students.

  3. July 6, 2013 at 6:57 am —

    In my district, there is an expectation of parent contact. I send a group email out every Monday to all parents and students, explaining the plan for the week. I’m required to post class assignments on my website. And I send parent letters home for great students once a month. We have two conferences a year, but we’re also expected to set up times to meet with parents at any other point in the year. And if I’m going to fail a kid, I have to fill out a form that lists when I’ve contacted parents. So the system in Scotland is crazy to me!
    I’m wondering… how is school funded in Scotland? Since the taxes that people pay go to fund schools partially, they feel as though they have some ownership of their child’s education here in Ohio (different states in the U.S. have different systems).

  4. July 7, 2013 at 5:03 am —

    At my daughteer’s school, in Spain, both teachers and parents use the homework notebook to pass messages to each other. We can ask for a meeting with the teacher whenever we want, and the teachers are usually willing to set these meetings, which are held at a previously agreed time, in the classroom or another empty room, quietly and without rush. As a parent, I think this system, in the middle of the two described ones, is great.

  5. July 8, 2013 at 9:26 pm —

    I’ve only taught in American schools, but I contact parents all the time. It’s not a requirement to the point that Tori talked about, but I send grade updates by email every couple of weeks to everybody. Once a month or so, I make a point to go through my rosters and look for kids who seem to be doing much better or worse than normal, like the kid who normally has an A but had some missing assignments recently, or the kid who struggles but did well on a couple of quizzes. I talk to them personally and then I also usually email the parents to either praise or just give a heads up to keep an eye on them. I can’t imagine not being able to contact parents at will. In the last year, I probably had 20+ positive or neutral conversations with parents, and only one negative that I can think of.

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