Maria Corby takes a look at parents' evening from both sides of the fence

30th January 2004 at 00:00
Why is it that, as a parent, I always think teachers have the upper hand at parents' evenings. And, as a teacher, I always think it's "advantage parents"? I shuffle along apologetically to my offspring's school, having been instructed how to dress (no red lippy), what to say (for God's sake don't tell them you're a teacher!) and how to respond to the inevitable complaints (the games kit really was left on the bus, we do have two alarm clocks and they both failed, and, yes, we do have a dog whose favourite meal is physics homework).

The parents' evenings at mainstream secondary schools seem brusque and impersonal. We get five minutes with each teacher if we're lucky enough and clever enough to find our way to the right desk at the right time, and there's something about the set-up (or maybe about my kids) that makes me feel apologetic. My first comment is to apologise to the teachers for keeping them so late, and sympathise for the long day they're having.

As a special school, we can give our parents up to an hour. We may have only 10 children in a class, so we can give each family the time they need.

Other people are involved, too, and the class teacher may find herself leading a large group of professionals and parents. This requires sensitivity; with so many people involved, the parents may feel they're losing control of what's happening with their child.

One of the teacher's jobs is to develop good communication systems with the parents. We don't get the day-to-day contact you might at a mainstream primary, so we use daily diaries, with messages about activities, progress made, meals eaten, even toilet habits. We know about their favourite auntie's wedding, their bedtime routines, the only brand of yoghurt they'll eat, even their learning styles, for heaven's sakes.

Our parents are usually on the ball when it comes to their child's particular difficulties. They surf the net, join organisations, read books and become experts. This keeps us, as teachers, on our toes and I am filled with respect and admiration for them. I'm sure most teachers feel the same, so why, as I'm slinking away from my daughter's school, do I imagine the teachers are nudging each other and saying: "Look at that one, she can't even sew a name label in an airtex shirt."

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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