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How to cope with their parents

Steve Dickman tells how to make it through your first day, how to prepare for parents' evening (right) and (below) get to grips with your blackboard.

Parents' evenings are a novelty for newly qualified teachers. Yes, they can play havoc with your social life, but would Miss Jean Brodie have stayed at home to watch EastEnders? Would the headteacher portrayed on television last year by Lenny Henry in Hope and Glory have gone to the match instead? Precisely.

After years of being on the receiving end from teachers, lecturers and, finally, subject mentors, it is a refreshing change to have people listen to your own words of wisdom. But what is the real point?

These evenings represent an opportunity to establish and cement your relationship with parents and pupils. And remember, if you make a good impression on the parents, then you will have an important ally when dealing with their child in the future.

So, let's consider how to make that suitable impression.

This may be the only opportunity during the school year for mothers and fathers to speak to you about their child, and vice versa.

As a result, arrive promptly and do not leave until you have seen every parent on your appointment sheet: do not give them the chance to complain:

"Fine teacher that one - never even bothered to see us."

Remember how important image is. We all know how some people like to have a go at teachers. Nevertheless, teachers are still seen as role models. Parents still expect us to be "different", even "special" - whatever that may mean. So try and look the part.

Nobody is suggesting that you turn up wearing a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, a V-neck pullover, a pipe in one hand and a Daily Telegraph in the other.

It would be a good idea, though, to have with you your mark book, the exercise books of the pupils you will be discussing, perhaps a departmental handbook and certainly a decent pen.

There are a few things to bear in mind when dealing with a parent face to face. The parents will expect you to act in a professional manner.

Remember that on this occasio, you represent the public face of the school, the very place where you will be working as the NQT. If you do not take pride in the place, why should someone else's daughter or son?

Try to come across as earnest and reasonably serious. Nobody wants a conversation with a person who appears to be a frustrated funeral director - but then, nobody expects their child to be in the care of a frustrated comedian either. By all means be amicable, but only after you have judged the nature of the people you are talking to.

What type of comments or observations can you make? If applicable, compliment the parent on the pupils' appearance. You can be expected to comment on the pupil's quality of classwork, concentration and homework. Is it produced on time? Is it produced at all? Are they influenced by others or easily distracted?

Do you have anything to say about presentation of work or punctuality and attendance?

How articulate is the child? What about social skills and the ability to mix with others?

As you talk, always have your mark book open so that you have at your fingertips the information necessary to discuss individual pupils. You also have immediate evidence of marks and attendance.

The mark book is also essential for you to be able to point out just how many pupils you teach and how easily you can be put under pressure.

It also suggests how impossible it is for an individual to be "picked on" by you - a common pupil complaint. This may be particularly important given that these days there is a trend for pupils to accompany their parents to these events.

How can you end the discussion? In order not to overrun, and possibly have a queue building, you need to give out a signal.

You can use a conversational formula to indicate the close of the meeting, such as: "If there is anything you need at a later date or if there are any problems, do not hesitate to telephone me here at work." It usually does the trick.

If this fails and you are desperate, just mention that you are a fan of Cliff Richard and you like morris dancing. That will shift them.

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