Over the years I have sampled a variety of parent-related events: the parent evening, the parent day, the parent afternoon, the parent drop-in. How about the parent minute? Or even the parent five seconds?
Evenings are the worst. No matter how many doughnuts are offered to the staff, the irritation and tediousness of the situation remains. And there are no winners. Teachers who don't have appointments are often forced to stay, those who are in demand are run ragged, and there is always that unlucky few who greet three parents during the evening two just after 6pm and the third at 9pm.
Perhaps I shouldn't grumble, for there is inevitably something to be learned: meet the parent, understand the child. If only it was that simple. The ones I really want to see are usually the ones who never turn up.
I've had my fair share of dicey moments. I can picture myself working through the list of missing homework, offensive words and mobile phone throwing incidents. Mr and Mrs Prada-Nesbitt stare at me, stare at each other, and then, in unison, declare: "That's not our boy." A minor panic rises have I matched the child to the wrong parents? I surreptitiously check the register, wondering how I can bluff my way out of this, but there is no mistaking Darren Prada-Nesbitt.
"I assure you, it's your boy."
"But he told us he was top of his class. That's it then," they growl. "No Gucci trainers for him." Thank goodness for that.
Of course, it is not just the oblivious parents we have to watch out for. They come in all makes. The timid ones. The stern ones. The warm and supportive why-can't-they-all-be-like-you ones. And, lest we forget, the pushy ones.
They arrive early, with their concerns in bullet points and extra paper for notes. They hover at your table, then they swoop in, sit, fold their arms and frown. No chit-chat, this is serious, scary, interview territory. Just question after question, for which you better have an answer. How many hours of homework is she supposed to get? Why isn't she doing Shakespeare this year? When will she be moved up a set? How do you think she'll do in her exams? What are her chances of getting into Oxford University?
Well, it's hard to tell when she's only in Year 4.
Lastly, there is one more type to be careful of, the one we all dread: the don't-try-to-fob-me-off-because-I'm-actually-an-Ofsted-inspector ***
Louisa Leaman is a London teacher