How to Conduct a Parent/Teacher Conference with a Zombie Parent
For a teacher there are few things more stressful than a conference with a parent. This is particularly true in today’s society when parent conferences often become more about the parent than the child and can sometimes erupt into finger pointing and angry words. Rather than meet with the teacher with an open mind about their child and his or her progress or lack of progress in the classroom, many parents look at the parent/teacher conference as an intrusion on their personal or work time, a question about their parenting skills, an embarrassment to their perceived status in the community, or all of the above. There are even parents who look at the conference as their own personal venue for whipping teachers into line, and if you add the likely possibility that the parent or parents have been zombinized as outlined in Part I, it is easy to see why the parent/teacher conference becomes one of the most frightening and even dangerous experiences teachers will encounter in their careers. As a result, many teachers try to avoid conferences with parents as much as possible.
However, communicating with parents is a professional duty of all teachers that should not be ignored or avoided regardless of how unpleasant the experience might be. It is essential that teachers learn how to deal with parents especially zombie parents in a conference situation. At this point I must insert a word of caution. Teachers must be aware that all parents have been subjected to the zombination process as described in Part I; therefore, no matter how normal they may appear, there is always the chance that a misplaced word or look by the teacher will trigger the awakening of the zombie lurking in the brain of all parents. Therefore, it is crucial for teachers to learn how to avoid triggers that bring out the zombie in parents. For example, teachers must learn to do simple things in the conference like carefully weighing each word spoken to parents and avoiding looking parents in the eye as much as possible. This does not mean that teachers should never make eye contact with zombie parents, but they should NEVER try to stare down a zombie. Zombie parents often mistake prolonged eye contact as a threat or an air of superiority by the teacher, which may result in a zombie assault against the teacher.
However, initial identification of a zombie parent can sometimes be tricky since early in the zombie incubation period tell-tale signs such as a blank nobody home look, eyes rolled back in the head, pale almost gray complexion, or dragging the right leg may not be present. Therefore, when there is no physical evidence that a parent has the zombie infection, it is important for teachers to focus closely on what parents say during the meeting. One of the first indications that a parent is morphing into a zombie is they develop a sudden craving for sweets. During this phase, everything around them including furnishings, rooms, smells, and people remind them of something sweet to eat. Teachers should be alert to parent comments associated with candy and sweet recipes especially recipes in which the teacher is the primary ingredient. For example, if a teacher is in a parent conference, and the parent makes such comments as “You smell delicious,” “This room smells like chocolate,” “I suddenly have a longing for Crepes Teachertte,” or “Teachers remind me of fine candy,” the teacher would be wise to find an excuse to leave the room immediately. Of course, teachers must exercise some common sense prior to rushing out of the room. If the teacher teaches home economics or culinary arts and the conference is being held in the classroom where the class has been cooking cookies all day, a parent comment such as “This room smells delicious” may be appropriate for that environment. (NOTE: It is never wise to hold parent/teacher conferences in the teacher’s classroom. I will address the reasons to avoid this situation a little later.)
Since identification of a parent as a zombie can sometimes be problematic, it is wise for teachers to assume that all parent/teacher conferences will involve zombie parents. With that in mind, teachers should prepare themselves for the conference well in advance. Never in all my years as a principal did I lose a teacher who came prepared to the parent/teacher conference – regardless of whether the meeting was with a normal parent or a zombie parent. However, I cannot say the same for teachers who entered the conference without the proper preparation. To survive a parent/teacher conference, it is critical for a teacher to remember the three “BE’s”: BE PREPARED, BE ORGANIZED, and BE ALERT.
To help teachers be prepared, organized, and alert, the following sections have been prepared with guidance from Agenda 8447-47-2-5653A (See Part I). It is my hope that by following these guidelines teachers will be able to safely navigate the parent/teacher conference especially those involving zombie parents. With the proper preparation, conferencing with a zombie parent does not have to be a frightening or a career ending tragedy.
Being prepared for the parent/teacher conference with a zombie parent is probably the most important aspect of the meeting. Preparation turns survival of the meeting into a reasonable expectation rather than hope and a prayer. Of course, prayers are strongly recommended and encouraged, but a teacher who simply hopes all will go well in the meeting is taking a chance with his or her career and maybe even life. However, Agenda 8447-47-2-5653A offers excellent guidelines for teachers on how to prepare for a zombie parent meeting. These guidelines are designed to give a teacher the best possible chance of surviving. In fact, if a teacher utilizes these guidelines, the chances of survival rise from 35% to 90%. Remember, to provide the best protection possible, the teacher must assume that all parents are zombies.
1) The teacher should build a student folder that contains representative student assignments, a model for the expectations of each assignment (NEVER use another student’s work as a model. Such comparisons have been known to cause zombie parents to violently attack teachers), student attendance, student check-ins and check-outs, tardies to class, and student discipline history. It is much easier for the zombie parent to see and understand the information in print than it is for them to comprehend what a teacher is telling them. Without the information printed and placed in front of them, zombie parents often believe the teacher is making up falsehoods about their child. A true sign of a zombie parent is the parent who believes the teacher has a vendetta against their child. Teachers must always remember that zombie parents believe their children never misbehave, always study at home, have never missed a school assignment, always do their work at school, are outstanding citizens in the community, a leader in their church youth group, spend hundreds of hours every month on their cell phone counseling with troubled youth in the community, and of course they never ever ever lie. Therefore, it is always wise for the teacher to have documentation to back up whatever they say in a parent/teacher conference. Without documentation the zombie parent will assume the teacher is working in cahoots with Obama’s government cronies to destroy their child’s life.
2) The teacher should talk to the principal about attending the conference or having another school administrator attend the conference with them. This will help take some of the focus off of the teacher. This is important since zombie parents tend to become confused and disoriented when confronted by two or more people, and as a result they are less likely to attack. Therefore, it is always in the teacher’s best interest to travel in pairs or even in packs.
3) Prior to the conference day, the teacher should arrange to have school security or police in the school office or reception area prior to the meeting. Zombie parents tend to be less volatile if they know a badge and a gun are not far away.
4) The teacher should make arrangements to use a school conference room or office for the meeting. The teacher should NEVER hold a parent/teacher conference in their classroom. There are several reasons why:
a) It is a wise teacher who keeps the location of his or her classroom a secret from zombie parents as much as possible.
b) Keeping the meeting area confined to an office or conference room keeps potentially zombie parents from walking the halls of the school.
c) There are too many potential weapons in a classroom that can be used against the unsuspecting teacher such as books, desks, rulers, yard sticks, pencils, trashcans, paper (There are few things more excruciating than a paper cut splattered by zombie drool), and crayons (Yes crayons! Zombie parents love to gouge eyes with crayons – especially the orange and blue ones).
d) Most school security congregate around the office area drinking coffee and shooting the breeze with the school receptionist and secretary. Therefore, they are readily available if there is problem in a conference room or administrative office, but if a problem were to occur down the hall in a classroom where a parent/teacher conference was taking place, it might be several minutes before they could respond. CDCP researchers state that the average response time to a classroom emergency can be as much as three to five minutes. In 5 minutes, an agitated zombie parent can mentally and physically turn a teacher into a quivering vegetable; therefore, to decrease becoming a vegetable before their time, teachers should NEVER conduct parent/teacher conferences in their classrooms. This also holds true for Walmart. A teacher should NEVER engage in a conversation with a zombie parent about their child at Walmart. Other than having a greater chance of getting the attack on video, the results will more than likely be even more gruesome than what would occur at school.
5) Prior to the conference, the teacher should visit the conference room and check out the layout of the room including all furnishings in the room. The teacher should remove anything that could possibly be used as a weapon such as hardback books, staplers, pencils, pens, small potted plants, coffee mugs, etc. When agitated, zombie parents will often start flailing wildly with their arms to express their displeasure. During this process they will grab at anything within reach such as a coffee mug and fling it at anyone who happens to be in the room. (NOTE: Although less likely to happen, zombie parents have been known to reach such a state of agitation even in the presence of two or more people, so be careful. The CDCP guidelines have been proven to be very effective in ensuring teacher safety, but like anything else, there are always exceptions).
6) Prior to the conference, the teacher should make notes of the quickest escape routes/exits from the room. Teachers should NEVER seat the zombie parent between themselves and the door to the room. The teacher should greet the zombie parent at the door of the conference room, and point them to a seat as far from the exit as possible. This serves two purposes: (1) It guarantees that the teacher sits next to the room exit for easy escape if needed, and (2) It places the zombie parent deep in the room, which prevents them from escaping before the school security or police officer can arrive and Taser them into submission. Also, the meeting room should ALWAYS have a table that separates the zombie parent from the teacher. It is only fair to point out at this time that the vast majority of meetings with zombie parents are only mildly volatile, but it is always wise for the teacher to go into the meeting not expecting the worst, but prepared for the worst.
7) The teacher should ALWAYS involve the student in the conference. Unlike the “walking dead,” QDA (refer to Part I) zombie parents do not eat their young. Therefore, having the student at the conference decreases the chances of the zombie parent becoming unstable.
8) Prior to the conference, the teacher should place two or three candy bars in his pocket or her purse. If the teacher senses the zombie parent is becoming agitated, the teacher should slowly remove a candy bar (avoid quick jerky actions) from the pocket or purse and slide it gently to the center of the table. DO NOT react with surprise when the zombie parent pounces on the candy bar with both hands and begins to growl hungrily. This is normal behavior for a QDA zombie parent. (NOTE: If the zombie parent pounces on your hand rather than the candy bar, you have been deceived; you are dealing with a “walking dead” and not a QDA zombie. If this happens, do whatever you must to get out of the room even it means cutting off your hand. In spite of what you see in the movies, with proper medical attention within the first six hours of a “walking dead” bite, you can live a long close to normal life after being bitten by a “walking dead” zombie.) Once the teacher places the candy bar on the table, the zombie parent should be given a few seconds (that is all it will take) to devour the candy bar. The teacher will see almost immediately a look of contentment spread across the pale face of the zombie parent. WARNING: If a teacher resorts to this tactic, as soon as the teacher sees the calming effect on the zombie parent, the teacher and school administrator should leave the room immediately and send in the school security or police. Although the sugar from the candy bar causes a calming reaction in QDA zombies, the sugar high is short lived. The effect only lasts two to three minutes at best, and then a sugar crash ensues. During such a crash, the zombie parent will go into a trance and become unresponsive, fall asleep and collapse in their chair, or go into a hissing rage. The first two reactions are harmless, but the fit of rage can be physically dangerous to the teacher as well as to the school administrator; therefore, it is important for both the teacher and the school administrator to take advantage of the brief calmness brought on by the candy bar and flee the scene as fast as possible.
Being organized once the meeting starts is also very wise when dealing with a zombie parent. Just like teachers sometimes feel they are too busy to be bothered with a parent/teacher conference, parents and especially zombie parents often feel the same way. Therefore, teachers need to be aware and respectful of the parent’s schedule and time. There is nothing that makes a zombie parent madder than taking off early from work for a conference with their child’s teacher, and when they get to the school, they are told the conference will start late. Maybe, it is the physical drudgery of dragging around their right leg or that they harbor a perception of a parent/teacher conference as a meeting called by a teacher who is not capable of doing his or her job that makes zombie parents arrive at the conference with a chip on their shoulder. Who knows, but invariably that is the frame of mind the zombie parent is often in when they arrive at the school, which means the teacher must do whatever it takes to de-escalate the tension. Once again the CDCP has offered several excellent guidelines for teachers to follow that will help them be more organized when dealing with zombie parents. The CDCP has found that the more organized a teacher comes across in the parent/teacher meeting the better the chances are of a successful conference.
1) The teacher should respect the parent’s busy schedule and ensure the conference begins and ends on time. One of the most frustrating things for zombie parents to endure is for the conference to be delayed waiting on a school administrator. When a teacher arranges for the principal to sit in on a conference, the teacher needs to be aware that there are times when circumstances may call the principal in a different direction. Therefore, when preparing for a conference the teacher should have a backup plan such as a second school administrator on standby in case the principal is not available to meet. Waiting for a school administrator is not advisable, nor is rescheduling the conference due to lack of availability of an administrator. The zombie parent often sees this as a ruse to not meet with them, and they become very offended and upset.
2) At the beginning of the conference, whoever called the meeting should speak first (parent or teacher). When it is the teacher’s time to speak, the teacher should stick to the reasons for the meeting. The teacher SHOULD NOT go on and on about what a good child Johnny is and how he really wants to learn, and then drop the bomb on the parent a minute later that Johnny is a raving lunatic in the classroom who refuses to do any of his work. The teacher should stick to the documented facts and be very professional about any issues the child is having. The teacher is not a counselor in these meetings and should not try to take on the role of a counselor. The teacher is not there to counsel the parents, but rather to seek help from the parents in responding to the needs of their child. Remember, a teacher will get much more respect from zombie parents when the teacher comes across as organized and professional rather than someone who “prettifies” the issues, humors the parents, or comes across as someone who is more interested in not offending the parents than actually helping the child. CDCP research indicates that teachers who are patronizing toward zombie parents are five times more likely to be attacked than the teacher who is professional, organized, and keeps to the documented facts.
3) When dealing with a zombie parent, the teacher should focus on them, but DO NOT stare them down! WARNING: Nothing disturbs a zombie zombie parent more than a teacher who focuses on taking notes rather than demonstrating they are listening to the parent. If a teacher keeps his or her head buried in a notebook taking notes during the conference, the teacher should not have any delusions about the meeting ending amiably. It will not! In all likelihood both the teacher and the notebook will be torn to shreds.
4) The teacher should have a short agenda of what he or she would like to cover in the meeting. The teacher should then stick to the agenda. Zombie parents will often attempt to get the teacher off track by bouncing around between several irrelevant points, but it is the teacher’s task to keep them focused on the issues.
The third ingredient needed to have a successful conference with a zombie parent is that the teacher must BE ALERT to surprises. Due to experience, teachers often enter into a parent conference with pre-conceived negativity, and as a result the tone of the conference is often impacted by their pessimism rather than any negatives brought to the table by the parents. The CDCP recognizes this problem. However, they also recognize that negativity is not necessarily an inborn characteristic of teachers, but rather a characteristic that has been cultivated through experiences in the field. The CDCP states, “Teacher negativity is not an innate trait, but rather a learned trait. The vast majority of teachers enter the profession with the belief they can “cure the ills of the world,” but after being knocked to their knees by reality over and over again, they begin to sour on their profession first, themselves second, and finally on the children they teach.”
The teacher should remember that the attitude they bring to the parent/teacher conference sets the tone for the meeting. If the teacher expects a negative meeting, they will most likely get a negative meeting. Therefore, it is extremely important that teachers BE ALERT to their own negativity.
Be Alert Guidelines:
1) Teachers who enter a parent/teacher conference with pre-conceived negativity about the meeting often get what they expect. Even when dealing with a zombie parent, it is crucial for the teacher to come to the meeting with an open mind, a listening heart, and a positive outlook.
2) In the conference, the teacher should state the facts and have documentation to support those facts. The teacher should never speak negatively or talk down about the child to a zombie parent. Even zombie parents will take offense if that happens, and from that point on the conference will become adversarial. The focus will move from the child to the adults, which is not the intent or purpose of a parent/teacher conference. Although it is important for the teacher to stick to the facts, it is nevertheless advisable to interject something positive into the conversation from time to time; however, it is just as advisable to avoid going overboard with the superlatives. The teacher must BE ALERT to the fact that being overly negative can be construed as an attack even when that is not the intent
3) The teacher must BE ALERT to being judgmental of the child or the zombie parent. It is not the teacher’s job to judge a child or a parent, but rather it is the teacher’s job to help the child and the parent.
4) The teacher should BE ALERT to finger pointing. Zombie parents love to find fault with the system, community, other students, administration, and other teachers. When zombie parents begin to lambast and blame others for their child’s lack of academic success or behavioral problems, the teacher should steer the conversation back to the positive. The teacher should NEVER get involved with finger pointing. The teacher must strive to remain neutral and steer the meeting back to focusing on helping the child. If the teacher gets swallowed up by the finger pointing, everybody loses especially the student.
5) The teacher should LISTEN to what the parent has to say – even a zombie parent! The teacher should LISTEN and not be thinking about what he or she wants to say next! By listening closely, it is easier for the teacher to detect when the zombie parent is becoming flustered. CAUTION – When a teacher begins to hear gurgling sounds coming from the zombie parent, it is time for the teacher to slide a candy bar across the table and get OUT OF THE ROOM! Remember, when in doubt RUN!
The CDCP maintains that teachers who follow these simple guidelines significantly increase their chances of surviving a conference with a zombie parent. The most important things to remember are the three Be’s – BE PREPARED, BE ORGANIZED, and BE ALERT. To BE PREPARED, the teacher must think through and plan for any scenario that may arise in the meeting with the zombie parent; to BE ORGANIZED, the teacher must be professional, focused, and in charge of the meeting; and to BE ALERT, teacher must be vigilant to anything that may trigger an unacceptable response from the zombie parent such as hitting, biting, spiting, or blowing snot wads at the teacher. By following these guidelines, hopefully much of the stress connected to zombie parent conferences can be significantly reduced.
©Jack Linton, March 31, 2014