This is an edited version of an article in the 30 October edition of TES. To read the full article – including five ways to improve secondary school parents' evening – subscribe to TES
I have a confession to make: I missed a parents’ evening at my son’s school. Alert the authorities! Add me to your blacklists!
I returned the paperwork and waited to be allocated my slot, but no appointment came. When I mentioned this, his teacher said we could arrange another meeting if we wanted to. In the end, we didn’t get around to it.
I felt bad for missing it, and I’ll be at all the rest of them, clerical errors notwithstanding. Because I do want to talk about my son and find out how school is going. (And, yes, to make it on to the list of “engaged, interested in their child” parents that I imagine the teacher keeps.)
Most importantly, though, I want to come away knowing a little more about what I can do to help my son succeed at school – what he needs extra help with and how I can give it to him at home.
Ultimately, with three children, I am going to be spending a lot of time on little chairs in classrooms over the next decade. That’s my time, yes, but also a lot of the teachers’ time, and none of us want to waste that – so let’s make it count. With that in mind, I spoke to parents about their experiences and came up with a list of five parents’ evening tips for teachers:
- ‘How do you think school’s going?’
Please don’t start off this way. All it does is make me think: “I really don’t know, that’s why I’m at this parents’ evening in the first place! Isn’t that your job?” It just feels like a bit of a cop-out from the teacher and can lead the rest of the conversation in an unhelpful direction. I know how drop-offs and pick-ups go, but what happens in between is a mystery to me. I’m here to find out, so tell me. And, while we’re at it, please tell me more than just the academic box-ticking stuff.
- Do compare my child with other pupils
I don’t mean a specific list of children my son is better/worse than. But knowing how he compares with the rest of his peer group would help to put things into context.
- Schedule flexibly
Offering a few dates for a parents’ evening really helps. And although face-to-face meetings are the ideal, we really appreciate alternatives. One parent I spoke to joined a parents’ evening via speakerphone from a foreign work trip. Others found that it helped to be able to opt for email communication instead. Speaking of schedules…These evenings often run late, we know – but if teachers could leave examples of children’s work out while we wait, the time isn’t wasted.
- Tell us straight
We know full well that “challenging” means our child is naughty. You can tell us the truth – we can take it, and we might even be able to help.
- Give us something to do
If teachers could take the time to identify one really important thing that would help my son, one area he needs a bit more one-to-one time on, I’d be so happy to do it.
And a plea: give us proper chairs
“Well, they make you sit on tiny chairs…” was the comment everyone started with, when I asked around about experiences of parents’ evenings.
Grown-up chairs are more comfortable; they make us feel less anxious and more of an equal. Plus, if we can all sit on normal chairs we are also less likely to make “Oh, this takes me back”-style small-talk, freeing up precious minutes of the parents’ evening.
Fiona Hughes is a freelance writer from Devon. She blogs at www.940sundays.com and tweets at @superfiona