First encounters;Talkback

29th May 1998 at 01:00
There's a distinct feeling of resignation in the staffroom this morning. You can tell something's wrong because the milk for the coffee has already run out by lunchtime. Of course - tonight is Year 8 parents' evening - not everyone's idea of a great night out.

Except mine. At last, the inner sanctum. When I was a pupil, parents' evening was the one night teachers took centre stage, and wrested back some of that power we'd been ruthlessly undermining all term. And audiences don't come any more captive than parents. What happened on that night affected our chances of going out at the weekend more than any homework ever could. Parents' evening always confirmed my suspicion that anything bearing the initials PE was to be avoided at all costs.

So I teach all day with added zeal. I have tried everything with Year 8 - flattery, bribery, occasional tears. But now for my final trick - revenge. Never has a chemical Cup-a-soup seemed more appealing than now, when I know I have Year 8 after break.

This is the class that sees an English Class With Miss Warren as a metaphor for catching up on as much homework as they can, as well as all the latest gossip, all for the bargain price of opening a book randomly on the desk in front of them. Is this what the manual means by "encouraging creativity"?

But it gets better. Helping out tonight, in the quest to fill the pages of their records of achievement, are Year 10. While Year 8 at least go to the pretence of working in my lessons, for Year 10, even opening a book is too much trouble.

Now I'm not an idealist. As any beginning teacher will tell you, mere pretence will do (even better if it's quiet pretence), but no effort at all means war. So tonight, girls, is my night. Teacher strikes back. (That'll be a coffee, please Sangita, with milk and one-and-a-half sugars. No, not two, it has to be one-and-a-half. And I can taste the difference.) So parents' evening is in full swing and I'm having a great time - earnestly examining every page of work given in to me, while various members of Year 8 - transformed, panto-like, into meek angels - squirm in mortified silence. (No, that's definitely semi-skimmed milk, Shazia, and I only like full-cream. I know it's cold, but could you just run over to the canteen and get me some?) And the parents believe me. They're taking what I say seriously. I am dizzy with success. As my markbook is about as reliable as the Turin Shroud, this really is a minor miracle. Don't you just love Parent Power? (Are those the only biscuits you've got Chloe? What about the custard ones at the other side of the hall? Well, are they custard or orange? Bite it then, and see, please. Now take the one with your teeth marks back.) Parents' evening is really just an educational cocktail party - a bit of chatting, a bit of socialising, lots of eating, even if the canapes are a bit stale. These are the first three hours I've had sitting down since term started. Brilliant. And you even get home before EastEnders. I have had a magical evening. But all too soon, the clock strikes seven. The curtain falls. (Zeinab - could you just run back and get my slipper?) Gemma Warren is a PGCE student at London University's Institute of Education

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