Parents evenings: where hope and expectations meet reality and tact. How do you navigate the balance between loyalty to your child and support for his teacher? In short, how do you refrain from punching in the face the person who will elevate your child to his next stage of learning?
With the end of term looming, parents’ evenings are in the offing. This means different things at different ages:
The Nursery Years – Child: 1, Teacher: 0
My first ever parents’ evening, I was nervous. Excited, but nervous. My child was 13 months old. What did I think I was going to hear? That he had been back-chatting the staff? I didn’t know then, as I do now, that if there are any real issues, teachers will tell you well before parents evening. No news is good news. But no news is not enough – you want to hear good news! You want to hear that your child is happy and settled, of course. But you also secretly want to hear that he’s showing early signs of mathematical genius; to be told that you should really think about getting him some violin lessons; that he has the reading age of a college graduate. In reality, it was a mutual love-in, where the keyworker and I agreed that my child was a topping little toddler and I hadn’t destroyed his fragile psyche by leaving him to go to work one little bit.
After my first, nursery parent evenings seem like a ridiculous, but cute, adjunct to the ten minutes or more you can spend chatting to your child’s key worker every time you drop off or pick up the little angel, if you should so wish. What tickles me the most is how they usually say, with solemn expression, that your child cannot attend your appointment – as if, at 18 months, they’re going to be scarred for life for hearing they are only the second best at “cereal play”. I just had my two-year-old’s one, which was spent sitting on the playmat flipping through his Learning Journal (these I love) while his keyworker and supervisor tried to think of something to say apart from, “He’s very happy” and “He likes trifle. A lot.” Phew, good job I came. I’m being facetious, but for the childcare involved to get to the appointment, I really would have been happy to just be told that when I picked him up.
Key Takeaway:Warm fuzzy glow; a pile of paint-daubings that may or may not be your child’s.
Reception and Year One – Child: 1, Teacher: 0
The nerves are back. What if they aren’t settling into school well? What if all the other children can count to 100 and get into their PE kit on their own? What if the transition to Year One has been rocky and he is not coping? With so much less granularity about your child’s life Within the Classroom Walls, the parents’ evening feels like a bit of a closed book, like it will be the Big Reveal. But there is no question that you will be on your child’s side, whatever the teacher says. Your child is new to this school malarkey; he is only four or five.
Key Takeaway:Warm fuzzy glow; pictures of your child in the school environs, all the more precious as you no longer get to rock up whenever you like to observe the children at play, like at nursery; a hearty resolve to read with him twice a day from now on.
Year Two – Child: 0.5, Teacher: 0.5
The uncomfortable truth hits you: at some point, maybe not this year, maybe not the next, but soon, you’re going to have to take the teacher’s side to an extent. Of course, I don’t mean turning on your child. But as school gets “real”, you have to take a slightly harder line with your child. You have to explain to your child that the school’s expectations are fair, and that you agree with them, even though you know they’re exhausted and the last thing they want to do is another piece of homework. Even though you still feel a residual childish resentment of teachers from your own school days. Even though you’re probably older than them.
The teachers are in a difficult position here. All of you are, or should be, on the same page: you all want your child to reach his potential at school. But across the table to them are not one or two parents, but as many Hulks, ready to explode at a negative comment. The only thing worse than hearing such things about your child, however tactfully put or kindly intentioned, is when, deep down, you know they’re right. If, for example, you have trouble getting them to settle down to do a couple of pages of their reading book, how much harder must it be to get them to concentrate for six or more lessons a day? So you have to discuss a joint strategy for dealing with any improvement areas.
And you have to refrain from punching the teacher in the face for daring to criticise your baby.
Key Takeaway: Divided loyalties and a realisation that it’s not all about admiring cotton wool pictures any more. And a renewed resolve that your child is awesome. And you want him to stay that way.
I’m afraid here I must stop, as my oldest is in Year 2 so I can’t comment on what happens further up.
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