Parents’ Evening: Whose Side Are You On?

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.

How do you take criticism of your child from his teacher, however constructive it is?

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  • SarahMummy says:

    A funny read as ever, but very good points. Sometimes parents’ evening is a starting point for a difficult discussion with your child about working harder, taking more responsibility etc. I’m lucky that with two of mine I come away with glowing reports every time, but we do have some small issues with one of them. I’m pleased to say the teacher is only saying things I’ve been saying for years. But does the message go in? That’s a whole other story.

  • I always find that just after Parents’ Evening it’s time for the usual comparison between children. ALL parents stand in the playground and say “Oh, how did (enter child’s name) at Parents’ Evening?” secretly hoping that their child is better than someone else’s.

    I just had ours for LP and BP. LP has just gone into Year 1 – a big change that he’s coping well with. BP on the other hand is in Year 6 which is all very serious as he gets ready for High School. His teacher has let us know (respectfully) that there are things he “needs to work on”. Fighting that urge to punch someone in the face doesn’t get any easier. Nor does the realisation that your little baby is not the genius you thought and actually he does have a few flaws.

    Wait… Did I just say that? Scratch that. I didn’t mean it! 😉

  • Mardy Kerrie says:

    Ha – great post Jess. I bloody dread parents evening. Although Alice’s parents ‘afternoon’ was great – she is a joy to teach apparently. But then again she is only 3…. 🙂 xxx

  • You always keep me laughing but also great points here. We are just looking around for schools for buba I am so nervous how it will be and how the teacher will be with the parents. I can’t comment yet but soon I will have two in school one after the other and things are going to change so much. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me #sharewithme

  • Spidermummy says:

    Yes! So true about the nursery ones, I have refused to go to them now and they just let me have a quick chat when I can instead, as logistically it’s just ridiculous! Just had our first Year 1 meeting, which really wasn’t as in-depth as I thought it might be either. Ten minutes really isn’t very long is it?!!

  • Sara Murray says:

    Nursery/pre-school ones… after too many years of them, I now go if I can, but if I can’t I don’t stress too much 🙂 School is a bit different, and you are so right that there is a shift once they’re a couple of years in… having said that, so far the mild constructive criticism of my oldest has been nothing unexpected – so I can do nothing but agree 🙂 Great post, you’ve got all the points spot on 🙂

  • You see this is why I love parents evening when they get to high school. So many children/parents to see and teachers who are as desperate as you to get it over and done with that they are pretty complimentary on the whole. Kind of begs the question, What’s the point? I am dreading the reception one though *gulps*

    • Wry Mummy says:

      Aw, your reception one will be very cute, I’m sure! I know what you mean – they’re so euphemistic and broad brush you come away with no clue as to whether they’re actually doing well or not!

  • I’ve got my son’s first parents evening next week. He is in year R. I am so nervous! Your blog has made me feel better. Thanks. 🙂 #ShareWithMe

  • Samantha P says:

    I’ve experienced nursery and a kind of early days Reception parents evening and I’d pretty much agree with everything you say about them. I am finding big school a bit of a mystery though – it seems really quite impersonal from a parent’s point of view, and I’m kind of dreading ghosts of parents evenings future! 😁 thanks for linking up with #thetruthabout linky and your kind comment Jess xx

  • Honest Mum says:

    Love this post and I could have written that post below, I want my kids to be the most loved! Nursery and pre-school parents evenings are fun but primary school felt more serious especially as Oliver is starting to read and I *cough I mean he has homework now! Thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogpost with this brill post! Yep I said ‘brill’, it must be the 90’s again x

  • This is a great post. As a teacher I loved parents evening as it was a chance to talk to the parents and let them know a little more about their child at school. I was year one so always focused on how they were settlign into the class, and always start with postives too. As a parent I’ve not always enjoyed parents evening as some teachers have been very negative from the outset and I definitely do not agree with them simply for the fact that no matter what the issue there is ALWAYS something positive to say about EVERY child. No excuse for teachers who cannot see that and don’t handle parents well. School needs to be a partnership in my opinion x x

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