Dildos and poltergeists: weird encounters with parents

Teachers and parents both want the best for their young charges. But sometimes they have very different ways of going about it, says Emma Kell. Dead rabbit, anyone?

Ghostly face in close up, screaming

Working with parents to get the very best out of our shared young charges can be illuminating, surprising and sometimes downright hilarious.

I’m reminded of the colleague who pointed out that teaching is so unpredictable because we are “organic beings, living and working with other organic beings”. 

I asked some teachers to share with me their funniest or most outrageous interactions with parents, and the results went way beyond what I’d expected.

A problem shared...or overshared

– “Phone call home to a parent to share info about a behaviour incident (key stage 2 child).

"Parent very supportive and very aware of all we were doing to support the child. I ended the call with ‘love you’, completely accidentally.”

Another teacher admits that the words she came out with were rather more affectionate than those she’d intended:

– “Parents' evening...just me in my classroom with a dad. At end of interview he said, ‘Thank you.’ 

"I meant to say, ‘You're welcome,’ but instead I said, ‘You're worth it.’ 

"Neither of us made eye contact...”

Small tokens of appreciation

Any teacher will tell you how lovely it is to receive gestures of thanks for their efforts in the classroom.

That said, some gestures are a little more surprising than others:

– “A parent once brought me a dead rabbit that he had shot. I'm vegetarian. I thanked him, and pointed out the issue. Next day he brought me a bag of cabbages and some rhubarb.”

– “You’re not going to believe this, but I’ve had a dead rabbit too. Who knew this was such a common teacher present?”

– “I was once given a brace of pheasants.”

Sharing precious items

Quite a few teachers had tales about when show and tell didn't go quite according to plan:

– “I had to give a parent back the intimate item (pink, had rabbit ears) that her lovely child had found in her bedside table and brought in for show and tell.”

– “I had a child bring me her mother's engagement ring. Beautiful. Always regretted giving it back.”

Playing by the rules

Schools have rules in place for a reason, though many teachers spend many hours having to justify them.

Once in a while, however, a parent comes out with a point that is hard to argue.

– “Holiday form requesting two weeks off in June: ‘As my son is ginger, it’s too hot for him in August.’”

– “I had a parent tell me her child did not like the shape of the triangle he was playing, and could we possibly find him a square one.”

Team work makes the dream work

It’s just brilliant when parents and teachers join forces in a collaborative approach.

– “I said that the young person needed to tone down the chatting, as Year 11 was so important. 

"The parent offered me a roll of duct tape and a signed disclaimer that I could use it on her child.” 

– “I had to speak to a parent about their child using the word ‘fuck’. With her child standing next to her she said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know where he fucking gets it from.’”

– “Parent waltzed straight up to me in the middle of a geography lesson, tipped a bag of cassettes on my desk and said, ‘When are you going to teach Bradley to stop nicking stuff from Woolworths?’”

Strange encounters

There is little more discombobulating than bumping into members of the school community when going about your private business.

– “Colleague frequented late-night kebab shop after night out. He was friendly with the owner, who called him 'bossman' and gave him free chips and cans of coke. He never knowingly ate there sober.

"The owner, it turned out, was father of a Year 10 kid. Parents’ evening was both awkward and hilarious.”

– “Saw child and parents in the supermarket. My trolley was full of bargain beer. I tried to hide it, but the mum noticed. 

"‘Oh, you’re having a party!’ she exclaimed. 

"‘Yes! A party!’ I replied, delighted with this plausible explanation. 

"The worst part was the knowing look from the dad.”

When words fail

My favourite of these are the downright surreal, and impossible to make up.

– “It was my first parents’ evening as an NQT, and I had all my notes ready. The first parent came in, sat down and said, ‘Sorry if R has been a bit of a cunt recently, but we've got a poltergeist and it's fucking with his head.’ 

"I didn't bother sharing his son's times-table scores with him.”

– “A parent came storming in to berate me on my use of bad language. Turns out her son had come home and said I'd told him to put some left over collage material in the ‘crap’ paper tray. 

"She calmed down once I'd shown her the scrap paper tray.”

– “Child had needed changing into spare underwear.

"The next day, the dad came in, stood at the classroom door and at the top of his voice declared, ‘Mrs J, I’ve brought your knickers back from yesterday,’ in front of all the other parents.”

Dr Emma Kell is a secondary teacher in north-east London and author of How to Survive in Teaching. She tweets at @thosethatcan

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