“If you agree to believe only half of what they tell you about us, we’ll agree to believe only half of what they tell us about you.”
This was the deal that a headteacher friend of my Dad used to make every year with the new parents in his welcome speech. As an educational maxim, I think it holds good.
It’s not uncommon for children to tell stories about their parents that should clearly be filed under “Too Much Information”. Some years ago, when I was teaching younger children, I waylaid a small girl on the way into our class assembly to take something out of her hand.
“Is this the key to your front door, Kayleigh?” I asked.
“No,” she replied. “It’s the key to Mummy’s handcuffs”.
Finding that there was not much I could say to this, we carried on into the hall, where I was relieved to catch sight of Kayleigh’s mum (happily unshackled) sitting in the front row of the audience.
Kayleigh’s news was eclipsed only by Ryan’s. Ryan once entertained me with a story of how his dad (who, according to Ryan, never wore underwear) had caught a sensitive part of his anatomy in the zip of his jeans. At parents’ evening that night, I struggled to look Ryan’s dad full in the eye.
Just as children can offer up revelations about their parents, it also works the other way around. This is one of the reasons that I’ve always liked parents’ evening. Although three hours of back-to-back appointments after a full day leaves you exhausted, the insights make it well worth the trouble.
At our latest parents’ evening, we found out that the shyest child in our class (who freezes if you ask her a question) regales her parents with endless chat about what she is learning. We also discovered that Stanley, who drifts off in afternoon lessons, has moved house and can’t sleep in his new bedroom. And Jack, who exhibits a couldn’t-care-less attitude, comes home in tears if he drops a mark in his weekly spelling test.
The most important insights from parents’ evening are often those which are given unwittingly. One that stands out for me concerned Nathan. Nathan was a lovely boy, but had a habit of bringing his body into the classroom and leaving his mind elsewhere. He spent a lot of his time gazing out of the window, mouth open, eyes vacant. I reported this to his parents. His mother, an extremely animated woman, shared my concern. “Yes, he does that at home, too,” she said. “I just don’t understand it. I have no idea where he gets it from. I was always so attentive at school.”
It took all my willpower not to transfer my gaze to Nathan’s dad, who sat at her side, mouth slightly open, eyes vacant, gazing out of the window.
Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands