“It Isn’t an Attack on You”: Dealing with Difficult Parents with Guest Zach Matson


Click below to hear advice on dealing with difficult parents:

Dealing with difficult parents can be one of the worst things about teaching secondary science. So many of us would love advice on how to handle challenging situations, what to say when issues arise, or how to stop taking things personally from teachers who have been there and figured it out. That is one of the reasons I brought my high school chemistry teacher, Zach Matson, back on the podcast!

Zach is a 20 year teaching veteran who is full of amazing insight and advice for high school science teachers and today, he is talking all about dealing with difficult parents. He has had his share of difficult parents over the course of his career and he is sharing some great advice and tips for handling these situations. In this episode, we are talking about how to handle emails from difficult parents, setting boundaries, how to deal with a potentially failing student, and what he has done in cheating situations.

For those of you who missed episode 35, you should totally go back and listen, but for context, Zach has a BS in Chemistry, a BA in Spanish, a BA in Computer Science, and an M.Ed from Valparaiso University.  He also has an M.S. in Engineering through Purdue University because he “thought it would be fun” – ha!!  He has been teaching since 2001 and is certified in secondary Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics.  He spent two years teaching chemistry, math, and physics on the southside of Chicago at a small private school and has spent the last 2 decades teaching all levels of chemistry (on grade level, honors, pre-engineering which is a magnet program at our high school, and AP) at a public high school in Lexington, Kentucky.

Zach will be back again next week talking about admin and coworkers. Be sure to follow or subscribe to the Secondary Science Simplified podcast wherever you listen so you don’t miss it!

Topics Discussed:

  • Dealing with difficult parents who believe that, “my students would NEVER do that!”
  • Tips for responding to challenging emails
  • Examples of situations Zach has encountered and how to navigate them
  • The importance of setting clear boundaries with grading and accepting late work
  • Dealing with difficult parents who go straight to admin about you as a teacher
  • How Zach has handled potentially failing students and cheating situations
  • Please send me a DM or voice recording of your “Teacher Appreciation Gone Wrong” stories

Resources Mentioned:

Connect with Zach:

Related Episodes and Blog Posts:

Connect with Rebecca:

More about Secondary Science Simplified: 

Secondary Science Simplified is a podcast specifically for high school science teachers that will help you to engage your students AND simplify your life as a secondary science educator. Each week Rebecca, from It’s Not Rocket Science, and her guests will share practical and easy-to-implement strategies for decreasing your workload so that you can stop working overtime and start focusing your energy doing what you love – actually teaching!

Teaching doesn’t have to be rocket science, and you’ll learn exactly what you need to do to simplify your secondary science teaching life so that you can enjoy your life outside of school even more. Head to itsnotrocketscienceclassroom.com/challenge to grab your FREE Classroom Reset Challenge.

Rebecca 0:00
You are listening to episode number 70 of the secondary science simplified podcast. Last year I interviewed my high school chemistry teacher Zach Matson for the podcast. He shared so much wisdom and goodness, specifically for new teachers and chemistry teachers back in episode 35. And that episode turned out to be the most downloaded episode of 2022. I knew after that, that he needed to come back on the podcast when I saw those numbers. So for those of you who missed Episode 35, which you should totally go back and listen to. Zack has a BS in chemistry, a BA in Spanish, a BA in computer science, and an M Ed from Valparaiso University. He also has an MS in engineering through Purdue University because he quote unquote, thought it would be fun. He has been teaching since 2001, and is certified in secondary chemistry, physics and mathematics. He spent two years teaching chemistry, math and physics on the south side of Chicago at a small private school, and has spent the last two decades teaching all levels of chemistry on grade level honors pre engineering, and AP at a public high school in Lexington, Kentucky. As a 20 plus year teaching veteran, I wanted to hear all of his advice for dealing with difficult parents, co workers and admin. I cannot tell you how many of you reached out and sent me specific follow up questions for him after episode 35. So we ended up legitimately talking for three hours. So I’m actually splitting our interview into two podcast episodes. So this week, you’ll hear the first half of our conversation, which is all of his advice for interacting with difficult parents. And then in next week’s episode, you’ll hear specifically about working with coworkers and difficult admin. Just like last time, I learned so much from him, as I always do, and I’m just so excited for you to hear from him today. So without further ado, let’s dive into my interview with my very own chemistry teacher Zach Matson. This is secondary science simplified a podcast for secondary science teachers who want to engage their students and simplify their lives. I’m Rebecca joiner from it’s not rocket science. As a high school science teacher turned curriculum writer, I am passionate about helping other science teachers love their jobs, serve their students, and do it all in only 40 hours a week. Are you ready to rock the time spent in your classroom? And actually have a life outside of it? You are in the right place teacher friend. Let’s get to today’s episode.

Rebecca 2:45
Well, hi, thank you so much for coming back. You are back because your episode, the episode we did last year, Episode 35 was the most listened to episode of the secondary science simplified podcast last year. So had to bring you back. I’m so glad you’re here.

Zach 3:02
I have to take it. And that’s like, the thing people pay attention to the most is a train wreck. Like everybody tuned in when OJ Simpson was being chased down the highway by the police. That’s this. It’s like, we want to watch a train wreck. But go ahead. I’m sorry.

Rebecca 3:16
That’s not true. Everyone felt like they could relate to you. And you had really great advice. And I really appreciate you I actually am. I listened to it several times. So I’m some of those downloads too, because I want to rehear things you said so even though I was here for the whole thing live the first time. So for many people who missed our first interview, even though they should go back and listen, watch us give us like SparkNotes your career history and what you’re doing now.

Zach 3:39
All right, ready, go. Grew up in Wisconsin wasn’t planning on going to college really worked at an auto body shop. They said if you can do a job that doesn’t involve relying on your body all the time, maybe do that. So then I did my college direction. I was thinking like Doctor, pediatric, whatever. went in, started taking those classes. I really felt like not even the content, but the people weren’t. I wasn’t wired like them, which is, I don’t know, it’s it’s a different mindset. So I wanted to stick with chemistry. And I wanted to do Spanish, which again, was something that I don’t think fits in too well with pre med. So I stuck with those things, got a degree of BS in chemistry BA in Spanish, worked at a crime lab for a little bit, then went back, got a master’s in education, taught two years on the south side of Chicago came down to Lexington, Kentucky. My wife was in pharmacy school. And since oh three I’ve been teaching at a high school. I don’t know why don’t I help myself in Lexington, Kentucky, and I’ve taught I’m certified in chemistry, physics and math. And pretty much since I’ve been here, I had some physical science in the beginning, but it’s all been chemistry since then. So

Rebecca 4:47
and you were my high school chemistry teacher.

Zach 4:49
Correct. I will I will ask you that was like, oh, five ish, right?

Rebecca 4:53
Yeah, probably probably. Yeah. And then AP Chemistry was maybe like, oh six maybe? I’m not sure.

Zach 4:59
I want you to No, because this is relevant for today. Every time I think about our last podcast, I think about how inadequate I feel teaching and how like self conscious I am now that you can look back on that. So I think that’s important for people to hear. Because, like right now for the people listening, while I’m either an idiot, or like, I seem competent, and like I have my stuff together, see how I sense of that, in reality, like the people who seem the most competent, I think are the ones who are working the hardest behind the scenes. And that’s not necessarily a healthy energy, but it helps other people. And one of the things I always say like as I look at co workers, like one of my co workers, who does homecoming, and all these other things, are the people who do prom, the smoother, something looks from the outside, the more somebody was bleeding behind the scenes. And I think that that’s something people don’t realize is, if something went well, it’s not serendipity. It’s because somebody absolutely busted their ass. And they were neurotic and attention to details, which is a non average energy it takes your brain has to be aware differently for those things.

Rebecca 6:02
Yeah, I feel like one thing I took away from our interview is, I just couldn’t believe that I was one of your very first like I was in your earliest years of teaching, and give, I felt like you were so competent. And so it was so interesting for me to hear from you, that you felt like you were just like, figuring it out moment by moment. So and I think that’s an encouragement for teachers to hear that like, as your student, I thought you’re doing a great job. And you did not feel like you’re doing a great job. And so I hope people hear that. And the reason I really want to bring you back was a couple of reasons, like I mentioned, because everyone liked hearing from you. But also, we kind of talked about the end and didn’t get enough time because that babysitter had to leave. But we wanted to talk about working with difficult people, parents, admin coworkers. And when I mentioned like having an episode with you, on this topic to my audience, I got so many questions. And so we need help. And when I said I sent you these questions in advance, so everyone listening, I do send the questions in advance we think about talking about, but you had said, you have a lot of notes, which is great. But you said,

Zach 7:01
the audience can’t see this volume of notes I’ve taken for myself in advance.

Rebecca 7:05
I’m literally humbled that you take the time, right that but you said before we even dive into the questions, because we’re gonna kind of walk through this parents, coworkers, and then admin, and I don’t spoil it, don’t spoil it. Okay. Well, you just start with what you said you want to start with, then go for it.

Zach 7:21
All right. Well, yeah, I think it’s important. I’m trying to be more succinct in life, but it’s hard. So last time was episode 35, new teacher stuff. And I had like three and a half key things to address, one of which was like, as a new teacher, you’re gonna suck. If that sounds familiar, and you got to realize that’s fine. Put in a healthy amount of effort. You can’t make things perfect. Like, you just have to, like, make things move on. Even if you’re missing content, or whatever. The people who are hearing this podcast are conscientious enough that they’re hitting what they need to, and they’re doing okay, and probably they’re probably doing too much. Okay. So you got to realize that the time in your class is a blip on their radar, we feel like we are more important than we are. And like, sometimes we’re important, but like countless hours of therapy, we have less of an impact on people than we think we do. When I’m sitting at a stoplight and not turning right and somebody behind me has got that right turn signal on, and I’m feeling guilty about it. That’s I’m not even a blip on that person’s radar. So that was the not so short version of one, two, all the resources you already need exist. And I have to laugh because one of my students was like, super astute. Like, he’s got some savant understanding of interactions. Like he’s a peer tutor. And so I was like, looking for something frantically. And he walks up to me, it’s like, what do you do? And I told him, I’d like have my own. And I’m like, I did this so quick. And he’s like, Well, you know, that’s already out there somewhere. And then I had this moment of panic. I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. But like, ah, and I was like, wait a minute, you listen to the podcast? Sure. So anyway, woof. I had that panic moment where it’s like, somebody calls my bluff. And it’s like, yeah, it exists out there. But like, I gotta do it my way. But he’s like, Yeah, well, it exists out there. So thank you, Matthew, For traumatizing me there. Don’t reinvent the wheel, new teachers. And then number three, which was I think, was the closing thing, which is like, get your email unlinked from your phone. Oh, my gosh. And that’s something that comes up later in this podcast for us. And then I said three and a half key things. So the other half a key thing is do as I say, not as I do, I don’t know these things. Because I follow them. I know these things, because I don’t follow them. And it makes my life more difficult. So do as I am I allowed to spoil like, my advice this time? I think that’s important to frontload Yeah. All right. Yeah. So let’s go. Yeah, my takeaway this time is going to be it isn’t an attack on you. So my advice to not just new teachers, but all teachers, it isn’t an attack on you care less and tell your brain to shut up. That I think is one of the most important things so we get into this first thing. And then I have the other half which is also this time especially do as I say not as I do. So let’s keep that in mind.

Rebecca 9:57
Title this episode, care less Until you’re with

Zach 10:04
Yeah, Wes, after my previous visit to the podcast, I walked away like laughing to myself. It’s like, Well, that’ll teach her to have me on a podcast. But here we are on you. Because you’re I know, I know. So like, here we are in like, I had to think about it, why would you want me back? And then I looked at the topic list. And it’s like, everything boils down to how do I deal with my co workers? How do I deal with parents? How do I deal with problematic people in my life? And it makes sense. Like, I figured it out real quickly. I am the problem in people’s lives, and I am the co worker people have to deal with. And so like, You are a genius, because you went right to the source.

Rebecca 10:40
So you’re going to offer some perspective? Well, I was laughing because one of the questions but it was like, what do you do when you’re the coworker you have that’s been teaching for 20 years, doesn’t want to do X, Y, Z. I was like, Well, I’m gonna interview that person.

Zach 10:51
Yeah, that’s, that’s exactly right. So I feel like it’s especially relevant because Taylor Swift has that song at now. And it’s like, it’s me. I’m the problem. So maybe that should be the title of your podcast and probably like your other one better. It’s me. I’m the problem. So it is funny, because as I was reading these responses are like planning them out. I was like, we got to that PLC stuff. And I was like, whoa. Here’s some introspection for me. So hold on. This this much more.

Rebecca 11:21
So this is still your intro. Got it. You just told me what you’re ready for me to start asking you questions.

Zach 11:26
I’m sorry. I know a bully. No, I love

Rebecca 11:29
it. I love Go for it. I get a coffee while it’s hot. Because you’re

Zach 11:33
good. It’s an a periodic table mug for those who can’t see? Yeah. So anyway, I think that there’s a seed to every self deprecating thing we say is like due to our own insecurity. And like the reassurance of someone saying like, Hey, I was there in 2005, when you were theoretically at your worst, content wise, and it went fine. Like that’s something we seek out. And I think in the big picture, that’s kind of the basis we have today, which is we have to, there’s some introspection, we got to figure out why we do what we do. And what’s that relationship to how we feel. And I think that I boiled that down to all of our sensory information goes through our brain. And we experience things through the lens of how our brain feels, and it’s not like we’re objective, it’s how our brain feels is what we’re going to look for when we get an email from a parent, or when an admin confronts us, or when a co worker is doing whatever. So it doesn’t matter, their intent or their tone. We get out of it, what we’re looking for. And I think that that’s like the biggest thing overall. And I cut you off before because I was like, Ah, today? Well, I think it’s mental health. And I think that this is important, which is this idea that like mental health is the buzzword right now. And I’m happy to see the people are acknowledging mental health. But the problem is that there, I made this up, they’re reactively, gung ho, and proactively blind. So modern society is great with like, oh, this person’s freaking out mental health, right? Like, that’s really easy to recognize, and then you think you have a solution. But like, ideally, things wouldn’t get to that point, if we’re really concerned about mental health. And we take care of it before it happens. And I don’t know if I said this in the last podcast, but somebody gave me some wisdom at some point, which is that all teachers at some point, have a nervous breakdown. And I think it’s true. At some point, it’s going to happen. But it’s hard to, like, prevent that. And you got to kind of look at things on a daily basis. And here’s where the problem comes up. We know this, as scientists, if you’ve got some gigantic data set, and you’re looking for something, it’s overwhelming, and you kind of can’t address it. But if you’ve got one data point that’s like neon sign flashing at you, then that’s when you’re going to hone in on like, especially when it’s literally screaming at you. So like, literally this person is screaming. So all right, let’s go

Rebecca 13:41
mental health. Okay, so let’s start with taking that I want to hear your con, like your opinion on working with difficult parents, because especially you have a lot of experience with AP honors pre engineering students, and I typically find that those parents are the most involved the most vocal. So yeah. Okay, so first question would be for those parents that say, my student would never do that, or have kind of like the blinders on to the reality of like, the human that their students is?

Zach 14:13
Well, that’s a big one. And I like I think it’s really, I have to tread lightly with this idea of a difficult parent, because there’s like the semi justifiable, difficult parent, or like the kid or the family is going through some difficult thing. And then there’s like, there’s the general high maintenance, which I would say is true for many of the high achieving students. Like, it is not a coincidence that these parents are involved in these kids lives and that they’re achieving well. And then there’s like, what I would call a worst case scenario, which is the self entitled sociopath. That’s like, those are so damaging to your existence that you really have to watch out. And so I think it’s and my kids know this because I complained about it all the time. Now, like I spend 60 minutes plus every single day dealing with emails, and it’s just part of the game now and it’s super frustrating because that’s time it gets spent doing other things. things. And like the majority of those are like, did they turn in their homework or whatever? And then there’s like, how can they improve their grades? And don’t worry, I’m getting to your question, which is like, how do you deal with them? But if you want to, and you can say no, but like, I kind of sketched out an email, and I want to tie it into what I said, which is, how we interpret it versus what’s going on. Yeah. So I use you as my example, I’m just going to kind of streamline this email. And again, so this is partially difficult parent, but how we interpret it is like a big deal, too. And so this is not a email. But all of these words have been said to me in various emails. And it’s like, it’s seemingly soul crushing because of the way we interpret it. So I used you as my parent if that’s okay, so fine. Mr. Matson. My name is Rebecca. I am Rob’s mother. So I chose Rob because he doesn’t. Maybe I’m contacting you regarding his current grade in your class. He’s been struggling in your class for several weeks, and we have reached a breaking point at home. He was up till 2am Last night crying and he refused to go to bed because he wanted to finish his homework for your class, Rob typically spends two to four hours per night on his homework for your class, which seems excessive to us. He says everyone else in class gets it and he just feels dumb. We’ve never seen him like this. He currently has a D in your class and A’s in all of his other classes. These grades are starting to be compromised, because he’s spending so much time on your work. We’re struggling to help him through this and hoping you can provide some insight. So I know.

Rebecca 16:29
Because I feel like hadn’t gotten to all these things before. Right. So

Zach 16:32
I wanted to like pin one out as, like this email could go anywhere from like, justifiably high maintenance to sociopath parent. Totally so. And, yeah, it’s all about how we interpret it. I’m very glad to say see that, that resonates with you. And I thought like, a lot of your listeners, like a lot of those words resonate. So when I read that the words that go through my brain is like, I’m inadequate as a teacher, which is like, I am not teaching them correctly. I am making this kid miserable outside of school, this family is obsessing about my existence, these are all the things I’m worried about. And like,

Rebecca 17:10
I’ve listened interesting, because I go into defense mode. Like, no, this is ridiculous, they should not be spending that much time. Like I want to fact check every kid’s doing. You know, it’s funny how we totally interpret it differently. But both are still a little bit traumatized.

Zach 17:26
Right, right. Well, I was talking about I have email PTSD, and it’s like, I dread opening my email in the morning. But I want you to know that defense is where I go from panic and self doubt, right? Like, it’s like, I am going to XYZ. And so that’s something I’ve really been trying to distance myself from. So like, if I can give good advice in terms of like email stuff, it’s going to be like, put your lens aside if possible, and identify one or two key problems, and then kind of like, try and think of what the parent or what would be a good solution. So cuz you don’t want the

Rebecca 18:00
kid doing that, like it hurts to hear that kids up till 2am. And like having a panic attack over your homework. It’s not like you want that,

Zach 18:07
right. And I’ll be glib on this. And I want your listeners to remember that, like a lot of what I say is exaggerated hyperbole. But I want to write back to the parents and be like, well, that’s crappy parenting, why are you letting them do that, you know, it’s kind of true. But as a parent, it’s really hard to draw that line. So when when that rolls in, I will almost always be like, cut them off, like kids who are doing that type of thing need boundaries, tell them like, cut them off at 40 minutes, cut them off at whatever amount of time you feel it’s appropriate. So that would be one of the first things. And so the other thing and we’ll we’ll address this email as we kind of go into this, because I was trying to think what would help your listeners. And so like, I decided to kind of sketch out a clinic on how to write an email to a parent. You know what I mean? So I, again, I feel like this is you’re dealing with difficult parents, and I think it’s some of the best wisdom I can give. So I had said, you got to isolate a few things. And in this particular case, I think isolating a few things and like the parents want their child not to be obsessing about this class, the parents want to help their child improve. And for us, I want to internalize like, I want the student their quality of life in the class to improve. So those would be like three things that I’m kind of looking at. And then I just have to, for me to note all those other words, because it’s just too soul crushing. Yeah. So here’s how I want you all to frame your emails. Because that’s what we tell people. Actually, I will go back a half a step. When you read an email and you have a visceral response. gotta walk away. For me, it’s almost impossible because I obsess. You said you go on the defensive. And I’m just going to declare put these words in your mouth. It’s an obsessive defensive because like, it cuts to the core so much, and I’m immediately typing out an essay. So

Rebecca 19:54
my husband literally said make me take 24 hours he is like because probably the first six hours of the 20 For I’m just ruminating and like drafting my Yeah, drafting my response in the courtroom. Right then like after I sleep on it and have perspective, I just can come back so much. So much different but then it’s hard because yeah, then you’re like delaying. It’s tricky. But yes, right, you’re right, you need to if you have a visceral response, you need to wait.

Zach 20:20
Right? So that was like, I’ve made some bullet points here. Like, the first point is your pencils out listeners, the first point, it probably isn’t about you, right? It probably isn’t about you. So stop internalizing it, stop, stop looking for ways to put the blame on you. There are times when they are blatantly attacking you. And that’s a separate scenario. That’s not the majority of the time, or at least for your listeners who are conscientious enough to try and do better at their job. Yeah, yeah. So facts, only one of my administrators, and bajillion years ago said, like, stick to the facts, because people can’t argue with facts. And you can’t reason with emotion at the other end. But at least you can not stick your foot in your mouth horribly. So something that I think you’ll relate to too, which is like, if your email is starting to get too long, you got to walk away. And if you feel there is no way to cover a ton of words, you’re gonna have to pick up the phone, which is like one of my nightmares, you want to talk about sweaty palms, you got to pick up the phone,

Rebecca 21:17
okay, listen said this may you may find this crazy, I hate talking on the phone so much that I’d much rather just meet in person. So like, I’ve got my rules. Like, if it’s starting to get to like two to three paragraphs, I’m just gonna delete it and say, let’s meet in person and talk through this. Because that’s the other thing. I think when you get face to face, they like Remember, you’re a human. And not just like this person on especially when it’s someone who might have a more harsh tone than the email you just read. Right? I like to get in person and be like, hey, remember, say to my face?

Zach 21:50
I think that’s perfect. Could you see my palms sweating, as you said that phone call, high level of anxiety face to face meeting. But do it like that? That’s perfect. What you said is exactly what needs to happen. For the exact reasons you said, which is like it makes you a person. And I think that that

Rebecca 22:10
was in my first two months of teaching AP Bio, I had had a in person conference with every single students parent. But I feel like once you have at once, it’s like a just think you have given them so much care, and so much attention. And then it’s just so different. So it’s like very painful on the front end. But anyway, Sorry, I interrupted you. So yeah,

Zach 22:30
that’s better than any advice I can give. I’m gonna interview you next time. That’s No, but

Rebecca 22:33
that was it. That was good. You’re saying. So if it gets too long, you just got to pick up the phone.

Zach 22:38
Right. And I don’t like that. And especially like, I feel like this generation has changed, which is a phone call is so unlikely, and so on. So foreign to newer teachers, especially. So I don’t know if that’s, but I like your idea, which is maybe like talk face to face. And like you said, save it for later. And this is one that’s important for me Do as I say not as I do. But like if you have to ask yourself, should I send this? Or should I say it? The answer is no. If you have to ask if it’s on your radar enough that you’re thinking, wow, I don’t know, then the answer is no. And this is something that’s important. And again, a little bit of advice for new teachers stop responding immediately. So for me, these emails come in, and it’s like, I need to address this pain right now. And it takes 10 times longer than it should. And it’s ridiculous. And there’s just so much energy involved. And that’s something that I would really like to work on, is like, you got to put some time within a reasonable amount. And I’ll mentioned that when we talk about admins later, but like, well,

Rebecca 23:39
and anxiety begs action. So it makes sense, because you read that you feel anxious, and your body is physiologically saying I need to do something about it. And so it’s very hard when to stop so that it makes sense that you feel that way. But you’re so right. I feel I was just here the other day, I was working on something, I was working on a flame test lab for chemistry. And I saw an email pop up. And for some reason, it looked like a quick question. So I just immediately responded within five minutes. And then she proceeded to email me several times throughout the day, cuz it was like she knew about my computer. And so I create it. Whereas if I wait, then they you set a precedent that you’re not always available.

Zach 24:15
Right, right, you know, absolutely. times 1000. And that’s something that I was going to mention later is like, no more than one email per day, only during business hours. So that to a person. Yeah, right, right, right to a parent. And they can email five or six times, which sometimes they do they get one that’s at the end of the day, sometimes it has to be 24 hours. So always try and respond within 24 hours as my other email advice. And then I will toss this one in there, which is kind of a joke, but kind of not. Don’t ever state or imply drug use, even if it’s true. It never goes well ever. And that was another the same administrator who told me stick to the facts was the one who told me never ever imply or state that. So it’s kind of a joke, but we’ve all had kids who like walk in on a Monday and they’re like, oh I was so trashed this weekend. And then when the parent emails you, and they’re like, this kid’s working so hard and you just can’t get anything and your response, you want to be like, Well, maybe it’s because he’s drunk all weekend. And so like, I’m sure at some point in time, I was like, well, perhaps you should talk to him about some of the weekend activities you mentioned. And that might have been no, no. Okay, so new teachers don’t do that. So here’s, here’s our quick email clinic. Yeah, yeah, start out with some appropriate salutation. And this is kind of dangerous now. But like, it’s, I’ll go Mr. or Mrs, whatever, or both of them or whatever it is, right? Look in whatever program you have, and make sure you’re addressing them correctly. You got to watch out for like, last names, matching the kids or whatever. And also, and I have to laugh, but not laugh. Like, I have had homes where the parents have the same name, Pat would be an example or something, Chris, that gets that gets real confusing quickly. So

Rebecca 25:55
and then you’re laughing at yourself like Mr. And Mrs. Chris, or, Mr. Chris? Chris.

Zach 25:59
That’s exactly all the things that go through my head. You’re exactly right. So get that straight start. And I don’t know, like if there was something in college that could be useful to people, it’s how to write a frickin email to people. Right? So you’ve got your greeting, like, it has to start with something, you can’t just skip everything in an email. So like, start with that? And then this is golden, which is start with something positive. Yes. So for dearest Rob, you know, it’d be like, Rob is so cute. And he giggles all the time. And I love working with them. So like Rob is my

Rebecca 26:28
baby for those listening? I’m sorry, who is the fictional student in this situation?

Zach 26:33
Right? Oh, I’m sorry. I

Rebecca 26:34
would not say that a 15. year old is cute, probably. But

Zach 26:37
no, yeah. Although I have a note, which is I always say in a professional way. I tell my kids, like, you know, I love you so much. And then there’s a dramatic pause in a professional.

Rebecca 26:48
I do think the positive though helps because it like it endears them to you. And I also feel like it helps them know that you actually know their student. Right. 1000 in them, you know,

Zach 26:59
times 1000, which is it doesn’t start them out on the defensive. Right. And I’m not trivializing, like, this is how you deal with people. I’m saying like, this is my advice on how to effectively communicate in reading or in writing rather, yeah. So start by, like you said, saying, you know, I know your kid, and I know they’ve got positive traits. And that’s not going to start them out on the defensive. So and as a parent, like, legit, you can, you can understand that too. And so after that, we’re like, you could say, like, I agree, they’re not performing up to what I think they could we just spin it in a positive way. Their performance does not match what I expect them to do. And so then, again, I had said earlier, like, try and make a very succinct list of like, here are some things to address, make it a bulleted or numbered list in the email, yes, you can, you can look at what they wrote. And kind of break that down into bullet points. So that, you know, you’re addressing all of their concerns, or so that you know, and it’s, it’s broken up into bite sized chunks, so they don’t have to digest it all at once, times 1000, whatever you’re going to address, address it in a numbered or bulleted list, period. And so like, you might say, like, there’s a few things that I want to bring your attention about Rob, like, he pooped his pants recently, or he has temper tantrums, whatever. And so then you can address those things. After you do that, and you present possible solutions to each of those items, or addressing those items. Like I guess, if I were professional, I would actually refer to the email I had cited earlier, would be like exactly what you said, By the way, which is if a parent says me, their kids spend so much time be like, I don’t think they should be spending that much time either. That’s not fair to them. Here is something I think they would benefit from cut them off at 40 minutes, right. And so after you get through those things, then you should be ending with something positive slash optimistic. Like, I hope we can work together. I think that’s important. I hope we can work together to help their grade be more representative, their abilities are improved their quality of life in this class, or whatever. And then you got your signature. And I’m old. So I have this pet peeve, which is the bigger somebody’s signature, whatever. Like, here’s 50 acronyms after my name, and here’s my giant name and 50 point font. It’s like, Alright, who are you trying to impress? That’s bigger than the amount of text you just wrote. So that’s my personal opinion. You’re welcome people out there. It is very common to do that.

Rebecca 29:21
I love that you said that because my brother and my sister have my brother’s an engineer and my sister’s a surgeon and they have all sorts of letters and they have like, anytime we have like a family group email and they send their things out I’m like my phone cannot open the email because your signatures so long and aggressive and my phone collapse because you’re you have too many points after your name. Like you’re my brother, my sister. I don’t need to know every degree you got. Thank you. I’ll say Thanksgiving. A

Zach 29:53
gosh darn men. It’s like yeah, I got four degrees. I’m not gonna

Rebecca 29:57
I wouldn’t say that. I’m like, you go to school that long and you do all that I get it, but you want to like, represent, but I don’t know how much it helps the situation.

Zach 30:04
Right, right. And I’ll tell you like, depending on how many parents stories you want to get into, like, I’ll tell you some scenarios with that. But

Rebecca 30:11
yeah, okay, so my question, though, about that specific situation with that student who’s working till 2am? Yeah, because you grade homework for accuracy or complete, like, so what would you say then? If they’re like, well, then they can’t get it done. So,

Zach 30:25
okay, how do we question that I should have addressed more, which is, like, I’ll just say like, if they put in a good faith effort, haven’t try and spread out the questions, I’ll give them full credit, or I’ll give them most of the credit, you know, I’ve gotten more lenient, and that’s a short answer, I don’t generally grade for correctness, because there’s not enough time, they have to do it, honestly. And I’ll have my peer tutors go through and kind of check assignments. And you can tell very quickly, if it’s legit, or if they put in a legit effort worth, they’re making some consistent error. And then another thing I’ve suggested for kids who spend a lot of time is get started on the day, it’s assigned, spend 10 or 15 minutes to check off the problems that you think you have a grasp on. And then the ones that you don’t stop by the next day for some help on those other ones, and you can very quickly make the assignment very efficient. So if it’s a kid is spending tons of time on a homework assignment, then get them started it say you got like, tell your kid, you got 10 minutes to go through this assignment, and mark the ones you do and don’t know. And then cut them off, set some balance, because that’s what these kids need, then go in the next day, ask for some help. And for us, it may take like five minutes to give them tips on how to address those problems. And then they can probably do the whole assignment in 30 or 40 minutes,

Rebecca 31:35
I always loved I always had like tutoring after school for 30 minutes, 45 minutes after school. And I always like just come sit in my classroom, do your homework while I’m in here. And like I’m putzing, around doing stuff, whatever. But that way, because so many times they just get stuck on the smallest thing. But if you’re right there just to like, push them into the next part of the problem. They’re like, Oh, and it just gives them confidence. And that companionship and the accountability the time, like, just come be with me for 20 minutes, you know,

Zach 32:01
a man and that, that lets them know you’re a person. And I think that’s something that I get a lot from Admin is like, kids are scared. Yeah, they’re afraid to come in and ask for help. But like the kids who have can relate and other kids that like, that’s not how it all is at all, especially one on one. And I tell my kids in front of class, I’m like, this is a character I play on TV.

Rebecca 32:22
It is true, though, that you have to have a different energy when you’re in front of the class of 2530. Kids, as opposed to when you are one on one because you having to manage all those people. So

Zach 32:31
Right. So I know that the original question was how do you deal with difficult parents? And my immediate response was the literally the 1000 Plus emails I sent per year to parents or guidance counselors, or admins specific to a student, these aren’t like your day to day emails. So I mean, like, last year, it was like, well, over 1200, I think for the year, it’s like, that’s where the difficult parents are gonna show up first is via email. So like, that’s, that’s why I felt like that was a good place to start. And then there’s more to it. But go ahead. No, go. No, you go. No, no, I mean, like, there are plenty of other things related to that. I don’t know, if you want to address some of the other questions first. Or if you want to talk about like some specific, ridiculous scenarios. Yeah,

Rebecca 33:12
let’s talk some ridiculous scenarios with parents, specifically. All parents first,

Zach 33:18
okay. So we may not even be able to get to them all, because I may curl up in the fetal position. But like, I can tell you a long time ago, and I think that this is, this is a situation where again, you have to say, stuffs going on outside of class, or outside of school, and you just call it the fallout. So I had a kid or a family. And I taught the daughter in first year chemistry in AP chemistry, and we had a great relationship. And I always had positive communication with the mom. Then I had the younger brother. Well, the girl was in AP Chem, and he wasn’t doing his work and everything. And I would kind of give him a hard time. But like, you know, no more than anybody else. So I thought the year was what it was, it came up to the end, he had like 17 missing assignments, which is ridiculous. And I told him, he came in, and he’s like, here, I did these all this weekend, which you and I both know, is impossible. And remind me in a minute, because I’ve got a tip on that. So I was like, Look, I know you copied this. And by the way, don’t don’t do that. And I was like, because I talked to the person you copied them from. And I was like, but I want you to be successful in some way. I’m going to give you like 67% or whatever it was as passing on these. But we both know you didn’t learn this. So anyway, we got all that in whatever. The next day, which was like the last day of school, this mom sent me the scathing email about how horrible I was and how I ruined her kid’s life this year, and how every night he would come home and complain or whatever, and all these things. And like I at that point, I think that was one of the worst interactions I’d ever had. And like it was Whoa. And so immediately I had to respond. And I tried like, this was maybe 15 years ago. So, as I tried to do it, like at the time, like kind of a bulleted list were like, yeah, he said he did this. It’s impossible. I know who he copied from. I gave him more than what my syllabus that I would give. And I gave him credit at all, because I wanted him to pass. And like, I’m sorry that you think that like, my treatment of him this year was unfair. I wish you had contacted me sooner. And, of course, they had like CeCe the superintendent, and like the principal or whatever. So as soon as I got done with that email, I prance downstairs to the principal. And I was like, Oh, my gosh, and she’s like, Yeah, I just read that don’t respond. And I was like, but then she read my response. She’s like, that’s okay. Don’t say anything else. And so that was just as like, to this day, I still feel like horrible about that situation. And like, we were going to tie in, and then and I’m gonna make up this part of the story. And what I mean by that is, this is my ending to the story. By the way, I wish nothing but the best for that kid and the family and whatever. And he happens to be very successful right now. And that’s what I said, I was like, in the email, I was like, I hope that your son continues on to great success, bla bla, bla, bla bla. But this goes into a lot of things we just said, and we’re gonna see with admin, which is number one, this person was an attorney. And they sent this email from their work email, and had their work signature. So PS teachers out there, don’t be sending private emails or emails that aren’t school related with your school account. It’s unprofessional. And it just leads you to problems, because then it puts the whole district under the microscope. Well, in my opinion, my principal contacted that person’s boss, and said, Your employee sent an email full of incorrect information, accusatory, incorrect information. And it is damaging to this employee’s career and mental health. And you need to deal with your employee. Alright. Wow, that is that is the conversation I think happened. I have zero evidence to back that up. And I will say that, like this person was involved in the school community. And never again, did I see them associated with that law firm. In fact, they were not with that law firm. Every time I saw them after that. So my story in my head is like, hey, this person blew up. They did it on company time on company resources. And as a lawyer, that’s a bad situation. So that is, that is what the story that I tell in my head, because the data is they were no longer working with that firm. I never heard from that parent, again. I still shudder thinking about this interaction, because it was so like, whatever. But so there’s an admin, who like did exactly what they needed to do. Yeah. They said to me, this is this is too much don’t respond. And then it was like, that was good. Don’t say anything else. And then I never heard a peep again. All right. That’s awesome. That’s how that should have gone. Okay. Well,

Rebecca 37:52
here’s something I’m grateful for that happened. That situation, though, was that it was all in writing, because that’s my hard thing with the phone calls. When you can’t get someone via email, but like, you have to reach out to them. Because you know, the kids failings, you have to prove you’re trying I don’t a lot of those people I don’t want to talk to on the phone because they can rip me a new one. And there’s no evidence of like, what was actually said, like, I love when it’s in the email, because then I can just forward it to admin, and be like, What do I do about this? If they haven’t already CC the admin, which they usually do?

Zach 38:21
Yeah, that’s, that’s the ultimate jerk moves when they see see your boss, and it’s the first time or they skip you. Alright?

Rebecca 38:28
First, especially, you’re like, we’ve never even talked,

Zach 38:31
I know that. And the admin will be like, What are you doing about this? And as new to me, I don’t know what’s going on. So my first solution to that problem is, I don’t pick up the phone unless somebody’s got a gun to my head.

Rebecca 38:42
Okay, so kids failing, you have no you don’t know their email, you’re trying to figure out what to do then. Right? Like, what would you do? Because they’re definitely especially if like, there are, you know, parents whose like, aren’t in more traditional jobs to have like a work email or an email. So what do you do?

Zach 39:01
So I’m trying to reconcile, like, in general, those situations aren’t going to be one where the parent? Well, I don’t really kind of does but like, if the parent is willing to go off on you, they’re probably motivated enough to put it in an email. So what I would recommend is take notes on the email, document it like we have infinite campus. I’m not the biggest fan, but there’s something called the PLP tab. I should probably know what that stands for. But I would like so I would put a note in there like called home parent was very disagreeable, said these types of things. I have stayed positive, and suggested that this was a resolution. So you may want to put, yeah, so in writing wherever what happened? I think that’s the only answer is take notes. Take notes. Take notes. I have to laugh because I think I told the story last time, but like one of my first couple years I called him to a parent, a positive thing, which by the way, you want to freak a parent out call him call. I know I’ve done that a couple of times. And I’ve said kept doing it. So like, several years ago, these kids are kicking butt, maybe I need some positivity, then you call the parent like, Oh, I’m so and so’s chemistry teacher. And then their palms start sweating, and they go on the defensive. So it’s not worth the trauma.

Rebecca 40:13
But I do try to email every parent, once of quarter, if I could do once a month, I would I try to do once a quarter with something positive, and super short. Because I agree, no one ever gets positive stuff.

Zach 40:26
Right? I feel so inadequate as an educator.

Rebecca 40:30
No, it’s so it’s no, it’s so hard. But like I did feel like that helps. Especially man. I mean, I could go into it all day, too, especially when I started teaching in a private school. It was like, right, my principal sat me down. Like we weren’t even supposed to have mid year evaluation. So December, and he sat me down in October and was like, We need a crash course on dealing with parents, Rebecca, because you’re not very good at it. And that’s when and my problem was, I am so succinct. I love a bulleted list. But I would email the parent and I did not do the positive at first, right. And I would just jump into a bolted like thing. Like I’m out. And it was traumatizing parents and then. But then that’s where he was when he taught me start with the positive, like you said, and he was the one who also said it might go a long way if you just started sending positive things here and there. So he was the one who really challenged me on that so

Zach 41:16
good. I had a digital hug for that person. And that’s where it

Rebecca 41:19
like I said, so when I he was still working at the school when I went on maternity leave when T was we adopted t and I said everyone had been like, what are you coming back and I was like, I’m only gonna come back if he still works here and he doesn’t work there anymore. So I’m like, I may not go back. Because or if I do, it’s got to be the right admin because it truly will get to admin but they really do make or break the job. Absolutely. I had a parent with me the Antichrist, and an email, and I got to forward it to him. And that was one where he was like, just like yours first, like, just don’t respond. I will defend the fact that you are not the Antichrist,

Zach 41:54
right? That’s a pretty big shoes to fill. And for those of you who don’t know, like, Rebecca is one of the nicest people on the planet, like objectively speaking, like, you can’t be mad at Rebecca, I’m pissed. Like, I’m, I’m gonna get this person’s email address. I’m gonna go ahead.

Rebecca 42:08
Sometimes those ones are almost easier because you’re like, Okay, facts. I know, I’m not the Antichrist. Emotions. Don’t panic. Like this did not like you said, it’s not about me. And this made it very clear. It’s not about me. Because it was it was all because I had a genetic disorder research project. That was it.

Zach 42:28
Yeah, research project. Oh, long term expectations.

Rebecca 42:31
I know. Okay, so something you said, make sure.

Zach 42:34
I gotta finish that story. Yeah, which is, so I called home, I still have the data. Like, I really enjoy having your kid in class. And the dads like, I really enjoy it when he’s at school too. And obviously, that dad had a sense of humor. So

Rebecca 42:46
I love that. Okay, so you said make sure to ask you. And I wanted to hear he said about accepting all that missing work at the end of the year. Why did you do that?

Zach 42:55
Well, okay, because I didn’t know any better. It’s like, these things I’m telling you aren’t? Because I thought of them before things went wrong, right? Like start with positive didn’t happen, because I ever had the idea. Start with positive. Right. So you’re talking to someone who’s written? Yeah. So learn from me, there’s your clinic on how to write an email and to de escalate. So here is the policy I put in place. And here is something I said like one of the questions you ask is always like, what have you changed. So the policy I put in place for the next year in my syllabus was, I won’t take more than three assignments in a day. And so and there’s a cut off two weeks before the end of semester, after which I will not take late work. So my reasoning, and like, Oh, if this is some golden advice that I didn’t write down as a note to myself, but I tell parents this all the time, you kids got 20 missing assignments. I for me, in the real world, I don’t go out and save up all the money and then buy a house. Like we take loans and pay it off a little at a time. They have a giant debt of homework, they’re not going to save it all up and turn it in at once. They need to pay off a little at a time. And so that’s why I say like, no more than three is a ridiculous number. But sometimes you gotta get that in

Rebecca 44:08
housing. So that’s so that already feels good. Like you’re being very generous, I think,

Zach 44:12
yeah, well, it’s not i i am the Antichrist, although no one has actually called me that. And I feel like I need to step my game, there’s still time, there’s no delta. All right, I’m gonna get on that. So yeah, I’ve revised that a bit. But I do want to say that like, that is a good life lesson. Parents understand this idea of making a huge purchase, and paying it off at a little at a time. And here’s how that relates to me. And I think that the kids understand this, because I say it all the time. It’s like, I’ll go into a weekend with a project list where it’s like, I’m gonna accomplish these 15 things. Then it’s like noon Saturday, and I’m 1% of the way through one thing, and I miserable for the rest of the weekend. I think that this resonates with so many people. So what I’ll tell them is like, work on one assignment per day. If you can’t do it, start two assignments total. Give yourself an hour. No more. And like the burden is lifted from them so much, which is having these boundaries, you go into a Saturday, and it’s like, all I have to do is put it in an hour. And then you don’t have to feel guilty for the rest of the weekend and your quality of life improves exponentially. So my general policy that I suggest to parents is one a day or one every other day. And I think it’s important that you write that schedule down any piece of paper and hand it to them. Because I think it’s really important for the kids have concrete in front of them, as opposed to Breann spinning like crazy. Just thinking, you know, even if it’s like one a day, they don’t know what they’re going to do when or house. So like, there is some of the best advice I can give related to kids who get behind and catching up, which is write out a schedule, tell the parents, it’s impossible to do it all at once your kid is going to be miserable. Knock it out. And I will tell you like one of my greatest success stories this semester, I had this kid who was literally like 20 assignments behind and I know you’re in your head, you’re like why wouldn’t take them early on him kind of soft. So but he’s got like, he had crap going on, you know? Yeah. And I was like, Look, if we have enough time, this semester, that you can solve this problem. And we wrote on a schedule, and he did it. And like his attitude and his face. The last two weeks of school was like nothing I have seen before it was like, I know we don’t have as big an impact on people as we want. But it was like a life changer for him. It went from like a 20% to like an 80% or something. And it was just like that was worth it. That kid learn a life lesson. Yeah, they earned it.

Rebecca 46:30
So anyone ever did you ever teach any Grossman?

Zach 46:33
I know Annie and I, I so she’s on Instagram. Oh, yeah.

Rebecca 46:38
She was one of my best friends in high school and our senior year. She admitted to us finally, like in April, that she may not graduate with us because she was 24 We call them p Tom pates. Mr. Thomas, who was like, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Zach 46:52
I told these kids, by the way. Oh, really? Well, he

Rebecca 46:54
had all the he had these papers, they’re supposed to write throughout the year, whatever. And she had 24 She didn’t have and like she literally and he was so generous, but he was like, I mean, I literally can’t graduate you any unless you at least turn something in, whatever. And so I will never forget sitting in an English Lit senior like English Lit and writing out a schedule for her. Right and saying this is your schedule and I like was fine with that. I was like before we really even had phones and stuff. So I was like stalking your everyday did you turn in this pizza on paper. And what was crazy was she ended up only getting like 19 done, but it was just enough to have like a 60 to pass and graduate. But then I loved it. Annie. She posted this on Instagram the other day. But she said I didn’t know this part. She ended up writing the other five papers that she was short and put him in his mailbox like that summer. Wow, she felt so bad because he had been so generous with her. But it was cool because it was a life lesson. But I also was laughing because I was like as a teacher. I bet that was such a big moment for him to be like this kid came to these in my mailbox

Zach 47:52
to his house mailbox. Yeah.

Rebecca 47:55
She went to his house. We were dying, laughing because like, I’m like any Did you like look him up in the telephone book because it wasn’t like the internet now. Or you can go on right now and see what someone write for their house. Like, you know, it’s just, it was funny. But I do think that’s like, a huge life lesson of like, because the overwhelm is real. And not knowing how to like, manage it is really hard. You need that other road coming in and being like, Okay, here’s the end. So that’s like, I love that about setting boundaries, helping them set boundaries in their own lives.

Zach 48:21
Yeah, it only comes from all these emails where it’s like you are making my kid miserable. And our family is falling apart because of you know, parent can look at the expectation of like 40 minutes a day or whatever, cut them off. I’ll give them credit as unreasonable. You know what I mean? And it’s not? Yeah, there’s a lot of words I could go into about student mental health. But the short of it is, that is good life advice. Sometimes a kid can dig their way out. That kid never should have dug his way out. But this kid this semester, like it was, it was so uplifting, and sometimes that’s what they need. So you’ve got to kind of play it by ear. But anyway, so that’s, that’s my advice. They’re not so how, what one of your questions is like, what have you changed to simplify your life or whatever. So now that we have Canvas, I’ll put close dates and assignments. So this is like our second or third year with Canvas. So you can assign due dates, and then you can assign closed dates where they can no longer submit an assignment. For those who don’t know, Canvas is some stupid online teaching platform

Rebecca 49:21
learning management system. Yeah.

Zach 49:23
So is that what they’re called? LMS? Yes,

Rebecca 49:26
it’s like Blackboard, you know, there’s all of those now,

Zach 49:29
right, right.

Rebecca 49:29
Do the close date?

Zach 49:31
No, no, I’m busy pausing so that you can tell that I’m censoring all the horrible things that I’m saying. Okay, so yes, I put in close dates. So like, I would put the due date like four or five days out, and then I put the closed date, like two weeks out, approximately. And so what happened was kids would turn the closed date into the due date, because there was like nothing in between. I didn’t have the mental horsepower to deal with like taking points off for things that were turned in before the close. This date and blah, blah, blah. So then I get emails like, oh, you know, my computer wasn’t working. And I didn’t get a chance to submit this. And then I want to I tell him like, hey, it was already three weeks late, right? That was the close date. So this semester, I was like, told all my classes, were now big kids. And you get one week after the due date. And it’s going to be, like, 25% off. So I’ll give Well, I don’t tell them, they’re not gonna listen anyway. So like, I’ll give them like a day grace period. And then after that, it’s gonna be like, 25% off. And so I’m gonna simplify my life that way, because I better be getting fewer emails, but those close dates, and I posted it as an announcement. Everything’s got to be in writing. So the parents can’t be like, right? Well, you never told us. Yes, I did hear this in writing. Like you said, Yeah,

Rebecca 50:48
my policy was always I’ll take late work up until the test day, because it’s like, I want the that’s a hard thing. It’s like you want them to do it, because they need to learn for the assessment. Right, then it’s like, I just, I was like, I can’t be looking at the rubric for this in December that we didn’t September by this. Nothing. You’re

Zach 51:07
absolutely right. And what you said is cutting off makeup work at the unit is what professionals do. Yeah. And so that’s do what you just said,

Rebecca 51:15
that’s my recommendation, you’re listening. I think that really helps. And it helps them to not get so far behind that, then they’re like, freaking out, you know, right. Right. It’s tricky, though. Okay, so a specific question for you that came from my audience was, yes, a teacher who I’ve had like a lot of conversations with, she’s at a pretty small school, and parents will just go directly to her admin Lane about her, like, what is she supposed to do? And I think she’s fairly newer at the school she’s in. So I don’t know if she necessarily has a relationship with admin, where they’re gonna be like, I got you type situation. I don’t know all the context. But what would you say about something like that? I know, you kind of mentioned it, like you’d had that before, where a parent would just go ahead and email the admin before you.

Zach 51:55
Yeah, it’s so frustrating. So I actually, this was a big bullet point. So I felt like there was, since this was a specific question, I felt like I needed to go into more detail. And so it’s a tough one. And so I had to think to myself, like what are the scenarios where parents are jumping right to admin, and like, one of them, I think, is if you’re in a small school, or a private school, and that parents really self entitled. So I think that that’s probably the most common scenario, or if the parents got a chip on their shoulder, or if the kids telling stories that the parent doesn’t think that they’re going to be able to resolve with you. Or if it’s one of those, this teacher hates my kid, which is ridiculous. Because like, I think we can all agree, the more you hate a kid, the nicer you’re going to be, so that you are totally off that entire radar. And so when things go south,

Rebecca 52:43
here’s a mean thing. I’ll say, you said I’m nice. In my head, I’m like, I don’t care about you enough to hate you. For it sounds like terrible, but that is kind of how I like I don’t think about you enough to like hate you.

Zach 52:55
That’s, that’s a direct application of what I said earlier, which is we aren’t as big a pirate as we feel. So wow, you are much healthier with that one. I phrased it differently. In one of my kids, that same kid who had said, like, all these resources are already there. He had said, like, or he had comment, I think it was him who had commented was like the whole what I said last time about, there’s nothing in it for me to be unfair to your kid, what’s in it for me that would motivate me to do that. In fact, there are plenty of things that are the opposite of that motivation, which is it makes more work for me to be unfair to your kid, right. And so then I was like, with this admin thing, if they’re jumping you it could be because like one kid sours the whole class. And then a parent will declare that it’s a whole class issue, which is, again, where they’re gonna want to jump you classes too hard kid tells the parents everyone failed, or the kid again, just like lying about you. And this kind of ties into admin. So we may have to hop back to it later on the other podcast. But like, if you have a strong admin, who knows you, you’re never going to hear about it. Right? I’m just gonna say that, like, if you have a good admin, who is assertive and knows you, unless it’s a legit problem, you’re not going to hear about it, they’re going to take care of it. That’s, that’s what I consider to be best case scenario. a likely scenario is that the admin is going to come to you like to get your point of view, and then they will take care of it, as opposed to you. And then I think if you have the next tier of admin, they’ll just be like, come up to you and be like, you take care of this. You know what I mean? It’s like, hey, so and so called, you take care of this CC me on the email, right? I’m just gonna declare, like in a tier of admin, that’s a low low tier admin skill in my opinion.

Rebecca 54:35
And so in your email, then to that parent, let’s say that’s your admin, or they’re just like deal with it. How would you like address like the would you even address like you like her, you went to my admin or like, how would you approach that part of the conversation to be like, wanting to talk to you directly since you went behind my back? Went to my boss about this. We can do this directly.

Zach 54:59
I love that question. And my first response was, wouldn’t mention it, because I don’t want to give it the time of day to justify it. And my second thought would be, you got to spend it as the positive, which is, I’m sorry, we had this breakdown in communication in the future, I hope that you’ll contact me directly, proactively, because I really want your kid to do well. I really like your kid, and I want him to do well. So I would not mention like, Don’t skip the hierarchy. aihole parents, but either completely ignored it. And I think that that’s like one of the most important things that you can handle with difficult parents is like, sometimes ignore the drama taking the bait, not taking the bait. Yeah, so

Rebecca 55:42
that’s great. I’ve never regretted being more positive. I’ve always regretted being more negative in a situation,

Zach 55:51
telling my 12 year old son that the other day is like I am crippled by the number of times I regret saying something. But I can’t think of a single situation where I wish I had said more

Rebecca 55:59
been nicer. Yeah, or like your

Zach 56:04
situation, you said it better, because which is a situation in which I would have been more positive or would have been nicer. So back to this parent going to admin, your best bet, is going to be full transparency in everything. Everything’s in writing, in terms of grades, all your rubrics are clear. So that even if they’re coming at you, like, all you can do is point at the gradebook and be like, these are the numbers, everyone’s graded the same way. I like your kid. And I want them to do well. And then that’s you have to have if you have complete transparency, at the very least you are blameless on paper. Like, you may not reason what that parent and they wouldn’t jump the hierarchy if they felt that way. You know, I mean, like, they wouldn’t have jumped a hierarchy, if you were going to be able to reason with them necessarily. Right. I will

Rebecca 56:54
say to you, that this is another reason why I do love the bringing them in, in person, especially when the student is kind of telling the tale of like, a whole class thing because I feel like when they’re in your classroom, for instance, you know, a parent’s like, well, they never know when stuff do well, when they’re in my classroom, they can literally see the giant whiteboard that says due dates in all caps and has it so clear, or they see this poster that’s like tutoring every day from three to four or whatever, right? I especially my thing with with honors, or AP is when they’re saying, you know, I’m grading maybe like their kid does understand, I studied with them, they memorize this. I know they answered this question, right? But being able to like pull up to tests, obviously you block out the other students name, but I love showing like, well, especially in like AP, well, this is how your student answered the question. This was how another student answered the question. They got full points. Right, seeing the difference in the the visuals I feel like are so helpful, like you said to show like you are being fair.

Zach 57:54
Right? That’s a really good point I still laughing at because you just pull up the rubric next to what they wrote,

Rebecca 57:59
right, as opposed to another kid. But I just love for them to even see like another student’s handwriting to be like the it wasn’t just like, there were students in the class capable of right doing this,

Zach 58:10
right. And I’ll I’ll toss in on that just like another classroom thing. As far as tests go, and everything. And I don’t know if we had this talk last time, but don’t think we did on a test kids will always be like, is it going to be curved? What’s the average or whatever. And I tell them, like, I set the curve, I take whatever the average is, and I divide by point eight, two. And that’s how many points that goes into the computer out of there are kids who are going to blow it out of the water. So if it’s like a 250 point test, there’s kids who are gonna get it. And these those are the kids these kids are really competing against, how can you say you’re an educator, if you don’t want to know how well your top kids can do. So you set up a test, not one that Emery is going to fail, like your math classes and chemistry classes in college where like a 20% was the average

Rebecca 58:53
house biochem. That was terrible. Exactly.

Zach 58:57
So you don’t want to set your tests up where it’s basically impossible, but you want to set your test hard enough that it challenges the top kids, and then gives you an idea of what like the kids on average can do. And that’s totally fair if you aren’t penalizing the majority because of that. Super high achieving minority. So I just take whatever the average is divided by 22. Any parent ever asks average is 82%. So and so I put the number of points, like let’s say it’s whatever number if it was a 250 point test, there’s no way it’s going in as 250 out Infinite Campus, maybe it’s going in just to make up a number like out of 200. And then I don’t like given over 100% really because then that kind of skews grades. So I’ll cap it a lot of times what I’ll do is I’ll put in like 100.1 25 so that they can know what they got. But it’s not skewing their grades. So maybe they got 125% or something like that. I want to also address because I know we’re wrapping up this round and warming up for the next podcast round. One of your questions that I did not answer specifically was like, how do you deal with a parent? Who says my kid would never do that? Yeah. Okay, well, first off, don’t start an email with your kid cheated. In fact, it may be the best to never even say the word cheated. And I’m sure in the student handbooks, I’m assuming that like, my kid would never do that is you’re kind of referring to cheating as like a likely scenario, or like, cussing another kid out in class or

Rebecca 1:00:24
whatever. But most likely, cheating is one of the more common, right,

Zach 1:00:29
especially with like high achieving students, where there’s more pressure on them and or they’re smarter about cheating, once you want to catch them now, and I tell them, I tell the parents, I’m like, You should be glad your kid got caught. Now. They’re a crappy criminal. And what we have done is taught them a lesson early. If they get away with it, yes. If they get away with it now, then, like consequences are going to be big time. So I tell them, like, be thankful that your kid has a crappy criminal.

Rebecca 1:00:55
Okay, so but we’re not going to tell them they cheated. So how would you handle that? If it’s like you do have a cheating situation?

Zach 1:01:01
I usually try to handle it straight with the kid. And I’ll pitch it. And again, the sounds, I don’t know, it may sound artificial, but like, there are policies in every student handbook about cheating, disciplinary procedures, blah, blah, blah. And they may involve like, a detention or whatever. And a zero, by the way, like the current trend in education is nobody gets zeroes ever. So that they wouldn’t even let that happen, I don’t think. But I, I try and handle everything in house. And so I will say to the kid and or the parents. Look, there’s an issue here. And again, I’m being very careful not to say your kid cheated. But like, there’s an issue here. Their paper looks shockingly similar to the student next to them. And I’ll say, it is likely that something took place, we can go through the administrative policy, and they can go through detention, or I can do this, and you can handle it at home.

Rebecca 1:01:58
would be your alternative? Because again, I think most or at least cuz you’re right. Most schools aren’t doing zeros now, but ours in the past was like, a zero on the assignment. And yeah, like after school detention for a week. So what would you say? What would you be your alternative? Punishment?

Zach 1:02:12
Well, generally, so like, if it were a homework assignment, zero, no questions asked. Yeah. Like, they’ll be like, right, I’ll be like, they get a zero on this assignment, it’s not going to make or break their grade, right. And I’ll let you handle the discipline at home. But I will give them the options like four, we can go through the administrative thing, and I have to laugh, because it’s like, who’s gonna do that?

Rebecca 1:02:28
Right. But it’s like giving them choices is good. It’s like equipment, they feel better about that.

Zach 1:02:33
And it’s less work for me, because I know in my heart, if you don’t have a strong admin, they’re not going to back you and they’re gonna back down, right? And it’s gonna be ridiculous. So this is all kind of cya stuff. And it’s like playing the game. But again, like, I think it empowers the parent, and it makes less work for me. So like, a homework assignment is a no brainer tests, which I think come up more often. Again, homework assignment, especially with Canvas submissions, I have them submit a picture of it. I can just pull up the picture, pull up the picture. It’s the same thing on a test and I come up with the final. Actually, I did something come up earlier. And I don’t know, you may have seen it. I posted on my Instagram, I did see it. A kid who had like, spelled a bunch of elements wrong and like ridiculous ways. And I couldn’t figure out why. And then I found the kid who was sitting next to him who had horrible penmanship. And this kid was just blindly interpreting what this guy wrote. And I told those two guys, well, I told the one guy, I was like, look, and I know this sounds horrible. I was like, Look, this level of pathetic cheating is so embarrassing. You got them wrong. Anyway, that’s what you get. I was like, and I’m going to tell your sister what you did. And we all know how embarrassing This is. And so obviously, I did not. I called him by name on social media. But I did post like a cropped picture. And he knew it was him. So you know what I mean? Like, I think that that’s, if it’s a situation where they copied and got it wrong, and it’s obvious, then. Great. Yeah. And if the parent asks, whatever, so I’m not gonna give him a zero on his final, there’s too much energy involved in saying this little section of the final he cheated on, I’m gonna give him a zero on the whole thing. That’s 15% of his grade by district policy. It’s not worth the energy to make that happen for me, but I can see why other people stick really tightly to that. I don’t know. I think that my biggest thing is, if it’s a small amount of change, and I know that sounds horrible, then I’ll let them know. And I’ll be like, look, again, homeworks. Zero, there’s no playing around. In fact, other than the point one, so their parents ask, Why do you get a point one?

Rebecca 1:04:35
Well, and that’s good, because it helps your notation to like, remember then, oh, yeah, this right. Cheating? Yeah, right,

Zach 1:04:39
right. But I’ll be like, Look, this is totally unacceptable. I know you did it. If it’s too much of it, you know, I’ll give them like a D, or I’ll give them 60% Or whatever points they earned or something. And then nobody can say that, like you’re taking this kid’s grade, right? I gave them 60% Of what they earned or whatever. And just make a note somewhere so that if anyone calls that bluff, but usually they’re initiative enough that they drop it. I had a situation last semester, which is one of the most embarrassing situations you can have as a teacher, which is I grabbed another teacher’s class, they were out for maternity leave, so that their class could do this lab. And I set it up so that my class was taking a test this day. And so they were over in this other teacher’s room with the sub, who happens to be an old dog who knows every trick. In fact, he was the vice principal when you’re at Lafayette, Mike. Oh, yeah. So he’s like texting me. And then he, when he brings the stuff to me, he’s like, we there was a fire drill during it. And they came back and was one kid took the other kids short answer section or was copying it. And I was just like, I literally, I was just like, I don’t even have the energy to deal with this. And so I think that I didn’t see those kids that day. And so I think they both came to me individually, or I grabbed them and had a chat with them. And I was just like, it’s a zero for the test. Like, it’s ridiculous. This is like, so ridiculous. I can’t even accept it. And so the guy, the girl is definitely gonna listen to the guy who had got copied from us, like, look, she took your paper, after the fire drill, you knew it, you could have stopped it. And so he had a suggestion, and I was like, I could exempt. So they have exemptions of the school. He’s like, I could exempt the final. But how about I take the final. And if I get an A on it, or whatever, you replace the test grade with that, as with like, or some fraction of that, you know, like an 80%, how much you put in 80% for the test. And I’ll use my exemption for the final. So I was like, You know what he’s proving to me that he knows the content. He’s not trying to get out of doing any work. He’s saying, let me do the whole shebang. And I was like, and you can communicate with your parents about the cheating, you know, I’m gonna flag it. And so the final one is exempted. His grade on that exam went in, as you know, whatever we decided was fair, it might have been like, just passing 60% or something. And then he didn’t have to have that zero. So getting creative is my answer to like, how to handle that cheating, especially on tests and stuff, because they’re kind of high stakes. Although it should be because in college, like a test might be 40%. Yeah. And that’s what they don’t get. But this is the troubleshooting. This is when we’re supposed to train the kids. When a parent says my kid wouldn’t do that. Just make sure you have all your ducks in a row. And like, they can’t argue I had, this was another kind of Edmond thing. I think I told it last time, but I had a kid who copied another kid’s Scantron on the final, this is a bajillion years ago. And so I looked at the two things because the skid guard suspiciously high and it was like obvious he had cheated. And so his parents were both like professors or something. And of course, they wanted to come in, and, you know, whatever. And so I kind of did the breakdown of like the odds of him having the same answers for all these things, including the rock, Ron, things are like this. And like when I laid it out that Ed’s like, okay, what are we going to do? And in my head, I was like, so this was back back in the day. So I was willing to stand my ground and take the zero on this final exam, or whatever. And I had a vice principal who was in on that meeting, because the parents had requested it. And she was on the way out the door, she was retiring. So she stood her ground. I was like, this woman has never helped me when iota. But she stood the ground on that which whatever the teacher says, it’s clearly cheating. And I was just like, Thank you admin, for your apathy on your way out the door. You stood your ground anyway. So when a kid says they didn’t do it? Well, you just got to have the evidence ready for him? And if they don’t bluff? What I mean is, tell the kid you and I both know. And again, you don’t even have to tell him you cheated. suspicious things took place, you cannot argue that suspicious things took place my eyes on you. You need to get your ducks in a row and make sure nothing suspicious happens again. And I know it sounds like overly paranoid, but you’re not saying the kid did anything. You’re saying explicitly. They can’t argue suspicious things happen. Right? And by you telling them you know, suspicious things happened. It’s like, you’re saying them? I know. You cheated. You better watch. You’re asking you out. My mom was like, I guess she listened to the last podcast. You said some questionable things. And I was like, really didn’t feel like it. And if I tell my students, I’m like, if Taylor Swift can say it on terrestrial radio, it was a word that she says on the radio, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to say it in class. Alright, anyway, bla bla, bla, bla, cheating, blah, blah, handle it with the student, if you have to block them and just tell them, hey, I’m gonna let it slide this time, or, you know, give them a slight penalty and tell them I could be doing much worse because it makes you the good guy.

Rebecca 1:09:41
But then what happens if it happens again, and you have to go to the parent and they’re like, Why didn’t you tell me the first time?

Zach 1:09:47
That so good, good, good thinking, which is, I’ll just be like, hey, there was some suspicious stuff that went on. I wasn’t sure that anything was done. So I had a talk with them specifically about this. thing, because I said to them, I don’t want any confusion in the future. Right? I wasn’t clear that time. So I told him, I don’t want any confusion in the future. I didn’t have anything to go to you with. But I clearly I clearly made my expectations known to the kid. And then that’s, that’s totally like you didn’t, you weren’t in an obligation to say the parent, because if you had contacted them, inevitably, that parent would have gone off anyway that you’re even accusing or acting like you’re accusing you handled with the kid, they’re a pseudo adult that should take care of that business.

Rebecca 1:10:30
That’s I had one situation I have where I can still remember it was a student whose mom worked with me in a different department. And it was one of those things where I tried to because again, I agree, they’re like, I’m trying to teach them like life conflict resolution. So I was trying to deal with it just with him. It was the same thing. I didn’t have like complete evidence, but I didn’t tell her the first time. And then it did happen again. And it was much more clear. And then when I brought her in, she was so upset because she did teach down the hall. But I was trying to like, I don’t know, I still might did I handle that right? I was trying to like give not give him a break, but give him an opportunity. His whole entire education, his mom had been down the hall, trying to do let give him some independence, and it backfired. But then I got roasted by his mom,

Zach 1:11:12
who was also left shoe in the face. Ungrateful turd. And that’s the next

Rebecca 1:11:17
segment of this is on coworkers because that’s where I was like, dang it I like and fresh. Because I had a lot of instances which we’ll get into, we’re gonna cut this one and then started. Yeah. But is teaching at a small private school. A lot of workers kids went there. I did that made it a little bit stickier, right. Oh, big time shrink here. Okay, well, before we cut off to that to the next one, anything else specific to parents that you want to share?

Zach 1:11:42
I think just summarizing it, like find ways to keep it positive and to spin it in a positive light. And to make it clear that you’re making opportunities, you care about the kid fact, right? You see, like you said, the positive attributes in this kid fact, you want to work together as a team fact. And then like, you’re not the bad guy, and so much. And I know it sounds trite, but like so much of what I say and do is so you don’t have to be that bad guy who people are fighting. They can only say to themselves, like, Well, he did everything he could and he gave this kid every chance. And he was fair and reasonable. And that’s what you really want to be in that situation, which is, rather than being the executioner out of the blue. It’s the person who saved them from execution, or tried and tried and tried. And that’s well documented. Here are all the chances I gave this kid and that’s what admins want to see to hear all the chances I gave this kid. Got it. Okay. And also, it’s not an attack on you. Looking sir, yeah, remember, my advice for everybody wants to it’s not an attack on you.

Rebecca 1:12:44
It really is so much less personal than it always feels. Right. Right. Thank you so much for listening to today’s episode and the first half of my conversation with Zack. I hope you found it helpful. I will link his YouTube channel in the show notes which can be found it’s not rocket science classroom.com/episode 70 And make sure you don’t miss next week’s episode, which is the second half of our conversation, all about coworkers and admin. To be sure you don’t miss it. Click the follow or subscribe button wherever you listen to podcasts. So that when the new episode airs next Monday, it will automatically pop up into your podcast queue. Alright, teacher friends, that wraps up today’s episode. If you’re looking for an easy way to start simplifying your life as a secondary science teacher, head to It’s not rocket science classroom.com/challenge to grab your classroom reset challenge. And guess what? It’s totally free. Thanks so much for tuning in and I’ll see you here next week. Until then, I’ll be rooting for you Teacher friend.

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