Don't do what I did - Spell, smell, it all became a blur one night

22nd May 2009 at 01:00

I began teaching in Liverpool. It was 1976, the Bay City Rollers were all the rage and I was a probationer teacher at a boys' school. As a "woollyback" (I wasn't from Liverpool), it was a bit of a shock to the system initially, but I ended up staying for 15 years.

Parents' evenings were different then. We went to the pub before the parents arrived and I can still remember the colleague who was persuaded that chewing coffee granules was the surest way of sobering up.

It was probably my first parents' evening, with Year 7. All was going swimmingly with positive comments and supportive families. During the evening, a smartly dressed woman sat opposite me. First impressions were that she thought she was a cut above the rest and was going to ask me probing questions.

I launched into a palliative, but genuine, description of her son's achievements. He was pleasant, well mannered, always did his homework and settled in well. I was pleased with his progress. What more could I say?

Then she asked the probing question: "What about his spelling?" On reflection, this was a reasonable question to ask his English teacher, but it didn't seem that way. I thought I heard her say something else - something more personal. "What a cruel mother," I thought. "I've only known your son for a few months and here you are making comments about his hygiene."

Honesty is the best policy so I said: "To tell you the truth I haven't noticed, but my nose isn't very good at the best of times." Thing is, she carried on as if I had said something logical.

The lesson for today's NQTs? Listen to what parents are saying, stay away from the pub and make sure your mark book includes a careful note of your pupils' body odours.

Alban O'Brien is head of English at a school in Merseyside. Send your NQT experiences to Each one we publish earns Pounds 50 in MS vouchers.

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