Whenever you receive a new list of students for your upcoming drama class (or classes), you aren’t just about to teach X number of students – you’re also going to be dealing with many (or most) of their parents. But before you stress yourself out over possible parental issues, read on for five tips for dealing with the parents of your drama students. We hope this will help you stay calm and cool this semester.
It can be hard for parents to remember that your focus is not solely on their own little darling; you have many students to keep tabs on. Drama class in particular is different because of the large frequency of group work and collaboration involved. Many parents don’t realize that their child’s actions often affect the rest of the drama class.
While it is important to listen and reassure parents that you have their child’s best interests at heart and are focused on their learning and growth, you have to keep a full group awareness at all times. Which leads us to our second tip…
I am grateful that I haven’t had to deal with this too often, but in the past I have had to speak with parents because they were upset that their child wasn’t cast into a particular role or because their child was apparently unhappy about something that happened in the classroom. In these cases, I listened carefully to what the parent was saying, particularly if it had to do with bullying, or the student’s health. However, it was always important to try and discover whether what we were discussing was a genuine concern from the student, or if it was the parent who was actually upset.
In these cases I always ask the parent, “Have you spoken to your child about this? What did they say?” and then encourage the student to come and talk to me directly about the issue. You will often find that it is the parent who has the bigger problem than the student, and frequently the parents are contacting you without having spoken to their child about the perceived issue. Of course, every situation is unique, but most problems can be dealt with if the student comes to speak to you directly. This also is a good life lesson for students and parents alike to learn – that parents will not be able to solve their child’s problems for them all the time, and that students need to be brave, speak up, and advocate for themselves if they have concerns.
I once spoke with a parent whose daughter had been in a number of productions, but had yet to be cast into a leading role. She was always in the ensemble. The parent was considering pulling her kid out of the current production. I asked this parent, “How does your daughter feel about this? Has she told you she is unhappy in ensemble roles?” The parent eventually admitted that their daughter loved being in the productions, regardless of the role, and it was the parent who in fact wanted their daughter to have a larger role and was annoyed about having to drive their daughter to and from rehearsals for (in their words) “a nothing role.” The parent also admitted that their daughter would be mortified if she knew they were calling me (which was touched upon in tip #2), and that the world of the theatre was unfamiliar to them, as they had come from a sports background.
In this case, I explained the similarities between theatre and sports (teamwork, collaboration, practicing/rehearsing to increase endurance and improve skills, and so on) and made a comparison between first string in sports and leading roles in the theatre – not everyone is going to be the star player, but everyone is an important part of the team as a whole. I also encouraged the parent to speak directly to their daughter about the show, both to learn what she loved about theatre and to learn about the process.
While you may not be dealing with parents who are sports enthusiasts, it’s important to remember that the world of drama and theatre can be a foreign place for many people, including parents. Have patience and take some time to educate parents on the ins and outs of drama class and/or the production process, and encourage parents to talk to their kids about what they’re learning and enjoying about theatre.
You may also consider having an experienced theatre parent write up a letter to new parents explaining their perspective and learning process as their child went through drama classes and school shows. Experienced “theatre parents” are an asset, as they have “been there and done that” and can reassure other parents that what they are experiencing is normal.
Parents like to be kept updated with what is going on in their kids’ lives, especially when they are trying to extract details from them. (“What did you do in class today?” “Nothing…”) It can be frustrating for parents who might feel like they’re totally out of the loop.
If you have a teacher’s website, try to update it at least once a week with whatever you are working on in class, for each drama class you are teaching. Alternatively, you may wish to send a mini newsletter to your students’ parents – perhaps weekly, or at the very least, once a month. Be sure to include important dates (such as performance dates or tests/exams/assignments due), opportunities for volunteering (if applicable), and fun photos whenever possible. Parents love seeing photos of their kids!
If you frequently write emails of a similar nature over and over, create a series of email templates to save your time and sanity. This way you can simply copy/paste and adjust the “Dear Mr./Ms. So-and-So” and you won’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you receive a similar question from yet another parent. Frequent messages I’ve received include: