My worst parent - Breaking up is hard to do

31st July 2009 at 01:00

During my first year of teaching at a well-respected middle school in coastal Norfolk, I was discussing with the class how a single-parent family can occur through a parent's death, through divorce or by the parents never having been married.

One very quiet child said: "I think my mum and dad are going to get a divorce." So I replied: "I'm sorry to hear that. If you want to chat about it later you can come and ask me at playtime." I thought I was sympathetic, and it stopped the class being distracted.

At the end of the day, I had a request to meet a parent at the school entrance. It was the girl's father. In a very reasonable tone he asked if he could have a chat in private, but as soon as we got into my classroom, I was subjected to a full-volume tirade, his fist an inch from my face, that began with: "How do the parents at my daughter's swimming lessons know that I am getting a divorce, which I'm not?"

His rant lasted more than three-quarters of an hour, lambasting me for "lessons like an Oprah Winfrey programme" and accusing me of getting gossip out of pupils to give to other teachers.

After he left I went to my headteacher and explained the matter. The parent was called in and I never saw him again. The girl's confidence began to grow over the next couple of weeks, so I thought no more about it, excusing the father for what I hoped was an out-of-character reaction to a difficult period in his life.

At the next parents' evening, the girl's mother came to discuss her daughter's progress, and all became clear. No mention was made of the matter, until she leaned over at the end and whispered: "You are one of the few people who will understand why we divorced."

The writer is a primary teacher working in Scotland.

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