Diary - My worst parent - Mr F must see an A*

2nd October 2009 at 01:00

My worst parent terrified me upon first meeting, but two more siblings and nine years later, I respect this fearsome father, Mr F.

I had successfully completed my induction year and was delighted to be handed the top set for English GCSE. I planned a challenging curriculum with some demanding literary texts for coursework. I shared the outline with the pupils so that they knew what to expect over the year. That afternoon I received the first of the phone calls. One of the drama texts was unsuitable: Mr F had himself studied this at school and found it tedious. His daughter could not possibly enjoy it. Could I change the course so that they studied another, one that he much preferred? No? Could he speak to my head of department then?

Next, the first of the coursework pieces arrived for marking. Miss F scored a very top A, but didn't quite match the criteria for A*. As an overly conscientious young teacher I had marked them meticulously, spending hours poring over them again and again.

He phoned again. Could we discuss the essay (he had a copy in his hand at the moment, and would like me to show him the exact moments where Miss F had demonstrated "inconsistencies in discursive style" and "occasional lapses in fluency") as he personally thought that it was an A*; the conversation lasted for over an hour before my supportive head of department overheard and intervened.

I dreaded parents' evening and became increasingly doom-laden as the appointed time for Mr F's consultation approached. On what grounds would he challenge my professional capabilities this time? He finally laid into my "experimental" approach to teaching poetry (I had, I confess, used drama techniques at times). Once again, I suggested he consult with my head of department.

Now I am the head of English, I think that he is finally happy. And since all three of his progeny achieved excellent GCSE and A-level grades in English, we are finally on good terms.

The writer is a head of English in West Sussex.

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