For a lot of ESL teachers, educating young learners in a classroom is the easy part – it’s dealing with the parents that can prove a little bit of a headache. For anyone who was ever had to deal with the parent of a four-year-old asking why their child is not yet fluent in English after five months of studying, here are some guidelines to make sure that when you ask parents “Any questions?” the only answer you will hear is: “No…”
What creates their expectations?
Firstly, you should consider what forms the expectations of a parent. One of the most important to consider is money. The ESL market is a competitive market, and it takes a large chunk of parental salary to send their students to a language school. Think about what level of quality you expect even from a McDonald’s burger, and consider how little of your income is riding on that cheeseburger. Compare that to the percentage the average parent will spend on English classes and then consider the extra sprinkling of your child’s development to the mix and it’s easier to see why they are expecting so much.
Also take a moment to think about why language schools and why ESL is so popular in South-East Asia. Pressure on students (and their parents) to achieve high marks at school and fight their way into top universities is incredibly high, and ESL centers offer a chance to bump up those all-important grades.
Set Expectations Early
When you take on a new class or even take an old class to a new level, it is extremely useful to make clear to the parents the course map you and the students will follow. It’s the perfect time to emphasize your key aims for the course, and where the learning will be focused. For example, if you are teaching phonics, let the parents know that you, as the teacher, are not expecting the students to know the meaning of every word covered, you want them to recognize the phonemes and be able to read those words. Therefore, right from the beginning, the parents know where you are going, and won’t be expecting that immediate fluency they otherwise may look for.
Throughout a course there will be plenty of opportunities for teachers to communicate with parents, and the more you do, the less chance there will be of unrealistic expectations arising. Updating parents on how their child is doing, and what the next step needs to be keeps mom and dad informed and most importantly grounded as to where their child is in terms of their development.
‘Open Doors’, during which parents will watch you teach, provide another chance to update and refine expectations. If you were teaching a class of three-year-olds, you would not be expecting them to be producing long role-plays or dialogues during class. Some parents may have other ideas, however, and that is why it is a great idea to introduce the aims of your class at the beginning of an Open Door. Let the parents know your expectations beforehand and make them realistic and achievable within that class – never promise something you know can’t deliver. Then the difficult part starts, making sure that you yourself live up to the expectations you’ve laid out!
These can be challenging for a teacher who has not set realistic expectations for the parents they are talking to. If you have not clearly laid out what a child of this level and age should be achieving, then it can be difficult to reign in the demands you are leveled with.
It’s not impossible, however, and such one-to-one meetings are the right time to also redefine expectations. Not every student or every class will be the glorious success we envision before a course begins, and taking this halfway point to refocus can calm any disappointments. Never let a parent feel that anyone is failing, but that a new action plan is needed that will be the best way to a stronger student.
Show proof of expectations met
If you have set realistic expectations, be sure to show the parents that they are being met. Use Open Doors to demonstrate that those structures you spoke about at the beginning of the course are being used; bring assessments and work to Parent-Teacher meetings to give quantitative proof of fulfilled expectations; even take photos or short videos of activities in class to pass on to the parents: the more information they have and the more evidence they can see of progression, the happier they are going to be.
Meet your own expectations
Finally, and most importantly, every ESL teacher should always have the same aim in mind: to end each class with their students leaving the classroom knowing more English than when they entered. If we achieve this, then parental expectations will be met – at the end of the day, they are paying for their students to learn English. If their son or daughter comes home and can tell them about the new words they learned in class today, you will hear that awesome answer: “No questions, thank you very much, teacher!”