I'm a different creature by night;Talkback

24th December 1999 at 00:00
Parentteacher meetings can be tense events, full of potential pitfalls. Predictions given with assurance in autumn can look ridiculous once summer results hit the fan. After 12 years' teaching, I've been to almost 60 of them.

Both parties are after the same result, good grades for the student, but they still contain more than a hint of "us" and "them". In contrast to today's seminar-style lessons, business is firmly conducted behind the barrier of a desk. And every word can, and will, be used against you. Not only do parents expect exact grade predictions a full year in advance, many of them even take notes on your answers (which is more than their kids usually do).

At the back of your mind is a constant worry - what have Sean and Sanjay told Mum and Dad? Have they, for example, briefed them about that Friday afternoon you were so tired, you only half-stifled a host of swear words? And what about that last-minute oral, demanded by the syllabus, which slipped your scheme of work and had to be covered in a hastily convened extra class?

I remember telling one set of parents their child had no chance of scoring above a D in his GCSE. Both parents turned out to be teachers - and were furious when the prediction came true. They went to the head, and I was hauled before a star chamber.

But in spite of the problems teachers encounter, I've changed my tune. I've just experienced my first PTM from the other side of the fence, at my daughter's primary. At last I understand why parents are so irritating. They've got their children's best interests at heart.

The teacher in me was horrified at some of the sentiments I took away. My reactions included: l I've waited all year for this chance to discuss my daughter, so I'm not going to hurry now. I realise there's a queue, but I've waited hours for that pushy pair in front to finish.

* Why is this teacher so defensive? I'm not interested in Government policy since 1945. All I want to know is how my daughter is likely to fare in her first assessments. So what if these place an unfair burden on her teachers?

* I can't see why she can't have a little extra help - just a couple of minutes now and then. There are only 25 kids in the class. I know parents should play an active role hearing reading at home - but I'm a teacher, too. I've got marking to do.

* No, I'm not going to commit myself financially to the school. You can forget about voluntary assistance too. I pay enough tax. I'll have a couple of raffle tickets.

In short, as I found out fast, once teachers become parents, the most liberal of us turn into rabid reactionaries. The welfare of your child gives you the perfect excuse to put your own educational needs before everyone else's.

So no longer am I going to moan to colleagues about boring, unreasonable parents, banging on about their kids when there's a queue even more fidgety than they are. I'm not going to whine about Government policy either. I'll even think twice when I'm asked for some extra tuition. What on earth's happening? I must be turning into a parent.

Andrew Cunningham is an English teacher in Cranleigh, Surrey

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