Monday, 7 April 2014

The Experiences of a Flying Teacher from the Clouds of Education - Chapter 5

The Joys of Parent Teacher Nights

Having freshly emerged from the second of three parent-teacher evenings scheduled one spring term at my old school, I noted that it was past 8 o'clock. My stomach demanded food, further lesson planning awaited me at home, and my arms had already started groaning in discomfort with the weight of 30 exercise books that had to be carefully marked.

Nevertheless, you will find no intended hint of sarcasm in the title of this post. Simply put, I love parent-teacher evenings. I find them stimulating, enlightening and one of the best ways to communicate some of the most important educational information you want your students to know, as well as their parents.

At my former school in London, parent-teacher nights were like one big comic book convention. Each teacher from every subject had their very own table in the dining hall. They encircled the middle of the hall, forming a perimeter of knowledge and experience. In the centre was a cluttered collection of chairs, some full and some empty, intended for the use of the parents to sit on for comfort as they awaited their interview time slots with various teachers. The time slots had been carefully planned out weeks before. In truth, the schedule went out the window the minute the evening began. Instead, parents lined up in anticipation at each station, report cards ready in hand, and their ears ready for every tantalizing piece of information about the schoolwork and behaviour of their children.

On that particular spring night it was parents evening for my Year 7s. They were anxious, nervous and impatient about what judgement they would be given by each teacher. The parents, that is. The students, some terrified, some passive and complacent, were at their honest best. Most would sit quietly during their session, nodding their heads – not really listening at times – and would offer up some of the most sweetest, innocent smiles you would ever see. Questions abounded of the behaviour of little James and little Sarah. Glaring looks at little downcast faces when they found out how distracted their kids could get during class sometimes. And, of course, one of my favourite reactions from some parents: “Wait until you see what happens to your X-box when we get home...”

During it all, though, there was always a genuine need and desire for the parents to want to see their kids succeed. They wanted to push them and ask what it was they could do to help make that happen. It was so encouraging and delightful to see just how much parents cared about their children and their education.

Naturally, there is also the pressure that parents bring to the table. Certainly, they want their children to succeed at school, and it is your responsibility to make sure that happens. Your responsibility, and inevitably your fault if they fail. However, after just one of these parent-teacher evenings, one finds out just how many parents do not actually feel that way. Not one bit. They understand that their children are just as responsible for their own marks and efforts as you are.

When the time comes to meet the parents of your own students – whether in London, Singapore, Canada, or beyond – make an effort to relax and enjoy it. Forget about the full day of classes you had just taught, or the dinner you must prepare at home in a pinch. This is a night for you to meet some lovely people and see your students in a different light. You get a glimpse into their lives at home, and have a chance to chat with your partners in ensuring that their education continues outside the classroom every day. Namely, through their parents.

It is an opportunity for you to really establish what your students need to work on and improve, as well as talk about what they are doing exceptionally right in the classroom and how to make sure they continue doing so. Remember, always end each talk with some positive comments. It will mean the world to both parents and children. A delightful evening, indeed.

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