How to survive school parents’ evening
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Tips for parents heading for a meet-the-teacher session
No sooner have the children gone back to school than it’s your turn to follow them into the classroom and on to the teeny tiny chairs. Yes, it is parents’ evening season. If you have got more than one child then it is almost always parents’ evening season. There are sessions to meet new teachers, discuss the progress (or lack thereof) of your child (or the new teacher), to talk about streaming, setting, good subject choices or poor behaviour choices.
I love parents’ evenings, a state-sanctioned invitation to talk about my children, but with all three now too old to indulge my passion, and the eldest so old that she is sitting on the other side of the desk and answering your questions about your children, I can only offer tips gleaned across three decades – and offer to accompany anyone with a spare plus-one invite to a nearby school hall.
Here are some of my favourite ways to make parents’ evenings a great night out for the whole family (apart from those family members who are teachers who might prefer not to be indulging your need to know exactly how exceptional your child is, on a scale of brilliant to genius.)
1 If you have made it to parents’ evening, then you should be in for a good time with plenty of praise. It is a teacher truism that most of the parents they actually need to see won’t turn up. If you are there, then award yourself a gold star and prepare to hear good things.
2 Remember, it’s a social occasion. Your child might think it is all about them, but there is a lot of down-time at parents’ evening, especially at a high school with multiple appointments. This is your chance to catch up with friends, again especially at high school when you no longer do drop-off and pick-up in the playground. Someone I am married to has missed entire appointments because he was too busy chatting.
3 “Too busy chatting” is not a positive comment in the context of your son or daughter. Teachers who say “too busy chatting” mean “irritating and disruptive.” There are lots of other phrases with special parents’ evening (and school report) definitions. A teacher might have pretended they were ‘looking for a new challenge,’ at interview. They did not mean your “challenging” (trsl: nightmare) child. In some circumstances “a character” is a good thing; not so much in a class of 30 and when the character he is playing is “a clown.”
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4 The ability to read upside down is essential. Not only will you be able to see your own little darling’s grades – but the grades of everyone else in the class.
5 There will always be one teacher whose grasp of the school grading system is a solid F - and there is absolutely no point in questioning why a “current level” grade is higher than the predicted exam result. He may have worked out that his teaching ability is dragging results down, or he may have been so busy teaching that he hasn’t completely bought into the school’s complex targets system.
6 It is impossible to game parents’ evening. Some schools have timed appointments, some have a turn-up-and-queue system. At secondary school, when you have lots of people to see, your child might have booked a quick-fire run of appointments or spread the joy throughout the evening. Whichever, arrive expecting to queue (valuable chatting time) but hone your hovering skills too – there’s a huge sense of achievement in spotting a teacher looking lonely, with no-one waiting, and zipping in ahead of time.
7 Some children have a diligent be-there-and-be-square policy, others a I-don’t-think-they-do-parents’-evenings attitude. They do. It’s actually a legal requirement that you get one chance a year to enjoy school hall displays on the water cycle.
8 If you have specific issues you want to raise – write them down, so that you don’t forget to ask. If there are no issues a brief expression of gratitude will be appreciated by the teacher – and everyone in the queue behind you.