How to Survive Parents’ Evening

Parents’ evening is a rite of passage all teachers have to go through, from your very first ‘Ooh you look too young to be a teacher’ comment (sigh – I miss those days – I even used to get ID’d in supermarkets, now the cashier takes one look at me and flinches), to the time when you’re recognised by ex-students bringing their children in. With a few years of learning the hard way under my belt, I thought I’d share some of my mistakes with other teachers in the hope that it will spare at least someone some embarassing blushes/potential ‘ground swallow me up’ moments. Make no mistake, this is my guide to surviving parents’ evening – for teachers. For any parents reading this, I can only apologise – and promise that we do actually care about your child and their progress!

Remembering student’s names

Perhaps for my primary colleagues this is slightly less of an issue, but for a secondary teacher who can teach up to 250 different students in one year group it can make parents’ evenings a bit of a minefield. The non teachers among you may wonder ‘why not just ask the parents for the name of their child?’ but what you may not be aware of is that some parents bring their child with them – something I’ve always been a fan of as it means you can all have a discussion about progress, but it can cause more than a little awkwardness when you look at the child in front of you, draw a deep breath and…nothing. Below are some tried and tested techniques by myself and my colleagues which I’ve rated for success and how professional they make you look:

  1. Class photos

Some colleagues like to have their class photos in front of them – just a quick glance and they can speedily identify the child in front of them – however this does flag up to parents that you don’t know all your students.

Success rating: 2 (good)

Professionalism rating: 3 (requires improvement)

2. Find the surname

I have used a surname approach, ranging from the ‘remind me of your surname’ query to allow me to hastily scan my data to the risky ‘how do you spell your surname again?’ approach. With the latter question I have been subject to funny looks as the child awkwardly recites ‘J – O – N – E – S’. Overall I have found this useful once I tweaked my opening patter.

Success rating: 2 (good)

Professionalism rating: Ranging from 4 (inadequate) to 1 (outstanding) depending on your smoothness and charm.

3. Just ask

‘Remind me of your name again’ said with a smile could work – but I’ve never had the (Ed) balls to try it…

Success rating: potential 1 (outstanding)

Professionalism rating: 4 (inadequate)

Suit up

I find that dressing smartly (or as smartly as possible after a long school day full of inexplicably laddered tights and somehow rubbing off all my makeup til my skin is a dull grey colour) helps me feel more professional – until the moment when a) I look down and realise that I have toothpaste all over my black top from this morning or b) I catch sight of myself in a mirror after talking to several parents and I realise that I have lipstick on my teeth. But in all honesty I am a big fan of slapping on the makeup to avoid looking like the crypt-keeper, spritzing a bit of perfume and giving my teeth a good brush – not, I hasten to add, in anyway trying to give off a ‘come hither’ vibe to an unsuspecting hot dad, but in a way that helps me feel confident and presentable. I’m sure there are some of us who have a staffroom suspect for deliberately trying to put off parents with a less than attractive outfit, or sour odours, in order to speak to them for as short a time as possible – but let us remember, innocent until proven guilty.

Fuel up

Ensure your table/desk is piled high with cups of tea/coffee/water (other beverages are available) and biscuits (custard cream, thanks) before starting. Parents’ evening is particularly taxing on the voice, so keeping your throat well lubricated (not a euphemism) is a must. My top tip for avoiding spraying poor parents with crumbs as you scoff your much-needed sugar? Rummage around in your bag as you down your chocolate hobnob in one go (still not a euphemism).

Be organised

Before you start, make sure you have all the relevant info on your students to hand – recent data, work examples if necessary. There is nothing worse than ‘flying blind’ to a parent who is clearly wise to your sweeping generalisations, or the narrowing of their eyes as you turn to the students and sweetly ask ‘how do you think you’re doing?’ while trying to hide the panic as you manage to forget EVERYTHING you’ve ever taught this child.

Schedule breaks

Parents’ evenings can be really long, and in a rush of goodwill to try and fit all your students in for a chat you may suddenly realise (when it’s too late) that you’re going from 4pm – 8pm without a wee. Couple that with the umpteen cuppas you’re drinking, and that time can become very uncomfortable indeed. Yes, of course you shoudl try and see as many parents as you can in the time, but do remember to book the occasional ‘stretch the legs’ break, and hotfoot it to the bog.

Teachers – recognise any of the above or have some tips of your own to share? And I ask the next question very tentatively – parents – recognise any of the above? Or have some ways in which you think we could improve?

 

 

Advertisements

How to Procrastinate

Everyone thinks they are a determined procrastinator, however in reality procrastination is a delicate balance between achieving nothing at all and finding something else entirely to do. I would go as far as to say that true procrastination is an art – and without being big-headed, it is one that I have perfected. Many think that procrastinating is simply doing nothing – but a faithful procrastinator knows that it involves much more than that. For all you perfectly productive people, I have provided a point-by-point ‘Procrastinator’s Guide’.

  1. Making a brew

In general, making your circumstances under which you are expected to do work is of vital importance. Temperature, hydration and fuel are all key to being able to get into the work mindset. A good procrastinator can spend a healthy amount of time fiddling about with heating, blankets, and food provisions, before declaring the situation ‘just right’ to settle down to work. And of course, getting up to make a cuppa is a perfect way to put off an unwanted task – especially if you’re particularly thirsty. After all, you can’t possibly work without a warm drink on the go.

  1. Having a lie down

A good pianist friend of mine once confessed that when a whole day was set aside for rehearsing with his band, he would spend approximately 30 minutes practising, and the rest of the time split fairly equally between having a cuppa and lying down on the floor. Whereas I’m sure he could procrastinate even further by extolling the virtues such a position has on his shoulder muscles (and between you and me, he does like to wang on) but the truth is that this is a form of procrastination. On the spectrum of procrastination, it is in a grey area between actively procrastinating (finding something, anything other to do than what you’ve been asked) and just being lazy and doing nothing at all. However the truly avid procrastinator would be able to justify a little lie down before cracking on with their work – as below:

“I’m really tired, so if I lie down for a bit first I will be well rested enough to start my work/job/task.”

Legit.

  1. Checking social media/emails/texts

These can put off ANY task. I can spend hours answering emails at work seemingly without achieving anything. There is always a friend to text or email which takes vital importance on my to-do list and MUST be done immediately despite looming deadlines. I can loop various social media sites endlessly – thus putting off any form of productiveness at all. I think the time to end doing this endless looping of social media only comes when you are doing it so often that nothing new has happened since the last time you checked it…but then there is always a new form of social media to get involved in…

  1. Tidying up/cleaning

I like things to be tidy before I start work. Not just in some semblance of order tidy, but TIDY. Monica from Friends tidy. This provides an excellent excuse to postpone the start of a work task – binning various useless pieces of paper, taking empty cups (from all those cups of tea) down to the kitchen, then obviously using the time in the kitchen to decide to clear out all the old spices in the cupboard that have been there for years, (why, oh why are they sticky?!) before returning to your work area to sharpen your pencils and test all your old pens. An ideal way to make sure that work isn’t done any time soon!

5. Doing life-admin

Isn’t it funny how as soon as you settle down to do some work you remember that bill you wanted to set a direct debit up for and you decide to do it there and then? Or you decide to do some essential research into a new energy provider (after all you could probs save some money). So vital to do these tasks straight away, rather than anything else. Or you could even spend some time that you definitely have into dreaming up a new career…

How do you procrastinate? Which method do you favour when you have an unwanted pressing task?

A Very Teacher Christmas

Today when I was at the checkout in M and S (I know, I know, get me, I’m such a big shot etc – I was only getting a Dine In For £10 meal-deal jobby ok?! I’m still a Tescos girl at heart) I was asked what I do for a living (this wasn’t a random question – I’d done my usual of making friends with everyone in the shop just because I love a chat). I always hesitate before I answer this question, as I know for a fact what the response will be. Sure enough, it came:

Cashier: So, what do you do for a living?

Me:….I’m a teacher

Cashier: When do you break up? Lucky you with all those holidays!

You see?! What on earth do you respond to that?! ‘Erm yes I have a holiday coming up but on average I work a 60 hour week so actually over a year I don’t get any holidays at all?’ Not the best way to breeze over a comment from a stranger as you try to cram all your shopping into your handbag so you don’t have to pay for a carrier bag (I know it helps the environment but I cannot justify five whole pence to conveniently carry home a bottle of wine – my Northern roots won’t allow it). So I’ve decided to compare a very merry Christmas to a very teacher Christmas – and let all the skeptics know what teachers will be doing during our ‘holiday’.

The First Days

You’ve just finished work, you have a few days off – time to relax yes? Not for the teacher. We will be spending the first few days recovering from various colds, coughs and sore throats. But surely lots of people get ill this time of year? Oh absolutely, and I know lots of parents who have to not only dose up themselves with Lemsip (other cold remedies are available) but also have to look after equally suffering partners and children. What you need to remember is that teachers are exposed to around a million (to the nearest million) germs a day. We will be on our knees after being coughed on by little darlings for several weeks, and after working those 60 hour weeks, most teachers spend the first few precious days hibernating, propped up by cold remedies, cough medicine, tissues and chocolate.

Christmas Shopping

Unfortunately, as teachers we can’t book a day off work to go Christmas shopping during quiet times. Imagine just being able to ring in and book an afternoon off, leaving 9j4 to their own devices…Impossible! So we unlucky bunch have to brave Christmas shopping on the weekend, fighting through the busy crowds, making tricky decisions about whether or not furry handcuffs are appropriate for a staff secret santa present (hint – they’re really not!) and trying to avoid bumping into students when buying knickers in Primark (‘What’s that you’ve got in your basket Miss?’). Just awful.

The Work Days

Christmas has been and gone, and we have entered the weary days of ‘Crimbo Limbo’ – there are still endless boxes of chocolate to eat, and the temptation is to give into lethargy and sit about watching festive TV stuffing ones face, vowing to go on a diet in January. Teachers however will start to feel the dread of returning to work unprepared, and will be using these days to mark and plan and remind themselves that in all too few days they will be going back to a world of few wees in a day and even less opportunities for a hot drink or a lie in. Sigh.

Banuary

I’m sure teachers aren’t alone in feeling the effects of a cold, bleak, joyless January. People nationwide will be experiencing the long dark days, the fights with frost and snow to get to work, and above all the grumpy colleagues as everyone grows quickly fed up with their January diets and pledges of no drink (Banuary at its best.) Now imagine throwing equally grumpy teenage hormones into the mix, and the threat of upcoming exams when all our senses are begging us to hibernate and eat pie and gravy…Worst ever.

So there you have it – a very teacher Christmas. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, but whatever the reality, I’ll let you in on a little secret: we still count down the days til our holiday starts! (5 get ups to go!) What’re your worst things about work around the Christmas period?