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:
- 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)
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.
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).
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.
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?