I was wearing something smarter than a T-shirt for what felt like the first time in years. Detailed notes were arranged in front of me and I had even brushed my hair.
However, as the image on my laptop screen changed from a phone icon to a video link to my student's parents, my heart sank.
I had specifically asked that my students be present for these calls and, on the very first one, the student was nowhere to be seen.
Even more frustratingly, enquiries about the whereabouts of their son were greeted by blank stares and then far too much laughter for two people who had managed to lose their only child inside their own house.
That's when I realised that the tall and slightly bearded man on the call was actually my student.
It wasn’t such a ridiculous mistake to make. I teach at an international school in Vietnam, and we have just entered our eleventh week of remote teaching – that’s a long time in terms of growth for a teenage boy.
There are a lot of things from my old teaching life that have now become unrecognisable. A virtual parents' evening was about to be added to the list.
How to host a parents' evening online
Over a series of days, I set up a video area near a suitably blank kitchen wall and held meetings with my students and their parents. This is what I learned:
1. Remember the details
The children at my school have dedicated themselves to keeping up with their schoolwork.
But the opportunity to actually focus on every individual student, talk about how their personal experience of the pandemic has been, and read their faces to get a better (though, of course, not perfect) idea of how they are feeling made me miss the classroom even more.
I made a note of details that had come up – music that had been playing, younger siblings in the background, which led to better engagement during later interactions online.
It also prompted and enabled me to check in with students on a more regular basis without it feeling forced.
2. Take advantage of having a captive audience
Lockdown meant that all students were present with their parents for the virtual meetings, and that parents who often found it difficult to attend meetings in the past due to work were available.
Talking through issues with all concerned parties present felt like a luxury, and it is one that I’ve never before enjoyed in my teaching career.
Tackling tricky issues while students were in the familiar environment of their own homes helped them to speak more openly to me and their parents, too.
In addition, as almost all of my students are Vietnamese, I had them act as translator for their parents.
Having students repeat what I had just said about them seemed to add a layer of gravity to my points – and for some shy teenagers, I got an opportunity to force them to actually say something positive about themselves for once.
3. Celebrate successes
Never before has the importance of highlighting what students are doing well been more apparent.
The current situation is scary for any number of reasons, but the uncertainty regarding how this will impact exams looms particularly large at the moment.
Every teacher loves to celebrate the success of their students, and while there were, of course, targets set and areas for improvement highlighted, it felt good and important to heap praise on students who have been working hard and feel they currently have little to look forward to.
Praise was also due to parents; they were keen to share anxieties about when schools might reopen, how exam results and university admissions might be impacted, and how well they were able to keep their children on track without school.
Parents' support for their kids and for teachers has been remarkable, and the virtual meetings quickly turned into a way to make everything feel a little more familiar.
Sarah Cullen is an English teacher at the British Vietnamese International School in Ho Chi Minh City