The parent-teacher trap

6th March 2015 at 00:00

My first run-in with a parent came in my newly qualified teacher year. It was quite a shock when an angry mum in a pink Puffa jacket stormed into my classroom and backed me into a corner. My crime? Her daughter had been sick, so I'd sent her home. Apparently, this was unacceptable. Apparently, she wasn't actually ill. Apparently, she'd been so anxious about seeing a couple of boys who were bullying her that she'd made herself vomit.

I seriously doubted this, but I didn't want to fall out with a parent (and I was keen to get the Flash out and make sure no bodily fluids remained on my classroom floor), so I apologised and promised to look into the situation. Then I stomped off to the staffroom for a moan.

It turned out every other teacher in the school had had a kerfuffle with Mrs Pink Puffa Jacket. When I investigated the bullying issue further, however, I discovered that there was a genuine problem. Oops. I dealt with it, the mother stopped being hostile and we all moved on.

This was the first incident of many. Over the years I found that no matter what you do as a teacher, you often can't win with parents. There's the mum whose son isn't eating his packed lunch. This is your fault. There's the dad whose child has got constipation. This is also your fault. There's the parent who wants to talk about how her daughter is a "Crystal child" (google it). Worst of all, there's Book-Band-Obsessed Parent, who insists her "genius" offspring is reading at the wrong level.

Parents are the worst. Except.I'm a parent now and I'm seeing things from the other side. Of course, when my son started school 18 months ago, I swore I would leave the teachers to it. Since then, I've complained that he is being picked on, engaged his teacher in dialogue about his waning self-esteem, sent a furious email complaining about the school's hygiene levels when he came down with yet another tummy bug, and left a passive-aggressive note calling for Quorn to be removed from the lunch menu (I'm not proud). I've even - gulp - questioned my son's reading book band.

The thing is, it's really difficult not to be a monumental arse when your child's progress and happiness are at stake. You don't feel like being a rational human being; you feel like unleashing the tiger mother within. So now, when I look at the worried, cross or interfering parents at my door, I see myself.

And, most importantly, I see the subtext: "This is my baby and he means everything to me. I don't always get this parenting thing right. I haven't managed to listen to him read for three nights, and I sometimes stick him in front of the laptop instead of talking to him because I need to get things done. I'm scared that I'm screwing him up. I worry about him all the time and I need you to reassure me. Please care."

It doesn't matter who's right, as long as parent and teacher act in the child's best interests. Sometimes parents get it wrong. Sometimes teachers get it wrong. Sometimes I get it wrong, whichever side of the classroom door I'm on that day.

Unless it's about book bands. I'm always right about book bands.

Lisa Jarmin is a supply teacher in the North West of England. @lisajarmin


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