It was the end of the day, and as I walked through the car park I saw one of my first-year pupils standing by a grey car with a woman and two girls, aged about eight and six. I was about to greet the boy and the woman I assumed was his mother with a cheery smile when she stepped into my path.
"Are you Mrs ..." she asked, spitting my name at me like a bullet.
"Can I help you?" I inquired apprehensively.
I noticed her son, his grey uniform almost melting into the car, and the girls darting behind her jogging pants. What followed was a flow of invective the likes of which should never be heard near a school. Immediately, I invited the irate woman to follow me to the school office.
Apparently I had threatened her son. Another child had phoned his mother (Mrs Nosy) to report the occurrence, who, being "mindful" of her duties as a parent, passed it on to the mother in question.
Out of the red mist of her rage, the incident came back to me. Yes, I had threatened her son. Not with exclusion, not with grievous bodily harm, not even with a punishment exercise. I had threatened him with a demerit - part of our positive behaviour code, for continually turning round and talking. The pity was the child forgot to mention that, and also that as his behaviour improved instantly he didn't even receive the demerit.
After passing the buck to the headteacher, I drove home, a little shaken. But I was even angrier that her children, who obviously knew their mother was way out of line, had had to listen to the woman's outburst. I could walk away from my worst parent. They had to live with her.
The writer is a secondary teacher.