Parents’ evening from both sides of the tiny little table
As I lowered myself into the miniature children’s chair in front of Little Brown Eyes’ teacher, I had a sudden image of myself sitting on the other side of the table when I was a Year 2 teacher. I realised how little I understood about the parents sitting in front of me and what they actually needed from me in those meetings.
As I reflected on parents’ evenings, I noticed there are some parallels between my experience as a teacher and my experience as a parent. I remember feeling nervous before parents’ evening even though I was one of the few teachers I recall who quite liked talking to parents. I wasn’t phased by adults in general whereas I was often struck by how many teachers seemed to choose the career to avoid working with or talking to adults.
I noticed my own nerves waiting to be called in last week. I guess the idea that my child’s achievements and in turn their worth being held up for judgement feels confronting. And in my slightly narcissistic view, my success as a parent is also being judged, even though rationally I know this isn’t true.
I would always make some notes about each child I was discussing to make sure that I remembered important facts or concerns. Otherwise there was a risk that my mind would go blank and I’d just waffle for 10 minutes about nothing in particular only to remember after the meeting several things I meant to bring up and feel frustrated I’d missed my opportunity.
I perhaps should have prepared in the same way for Little Brown Eye’s parents’ evening. If I had, I might have come away from it feeling differently. But in fact I came out feeling disappointed. I knew I didn’t get what I wanted from it but why? It took me a few days to put my finger on it and made me reflect on how many parents possibly felt the same after my meetings with them all those years ago.
During teacher training, we were always taught that parents are partners in the learning journey. And yet that’s a hard thing to actually put into practice because parents often have a very different view of education and their role within it. I mean everyone has an opinion about what teachers ought to be doing, but that’s a different article!
Every parent that turns up to parents’ evening (and even those that don’t) have different expectations and need different things from the process so how can teachers even begin to meet their needs when they remain unspoken?
Perhaps by asking: What do you really want to know about your children? For some the answer might be that they are decent human beings or maybe that they are child geniuses. I guess it’s different for all of us. What I want to know is that my children are ok; that they are able to learn; that they are able to get along with others; that they are making progress in their own way; and that the teacher KNOWS them and that they are a valued member of the class.
I was once described by a teacher in an end of year report as “like a well oiled Rolls Royce cruising effortlessly along” which is a slightly unusual description but it felt personal. I felt like he saw me and appreciated me. It’s about the only report I can remember which says something I suppose!
Most parents’ evening appointments begin with the question to parents: “How do you think they are getting on?” In many cases, the answer to the question is already known but sometimes we get a curve ball. There are times when it feels like we are talking about two different children: one that turns up at school and one that exists within their home. That’s a tough one to resolve and it’s easy to assume there is a problem at home when in fact the opposite can be true.
Those children who comply at school but explode at home are often masking their difficulties whether they are related to learning or emotional regulation and the struggle of keeping themselves contained during the school day becomes impossible to continue at home.
Home is often a child’s safe space; a place where they can let it all hang out; somewhere they can be completely themselves. So parents often get the worst of their children which, personally, feels a bit like a smack in the face!
Little Brown Eyes class are the children perhaps most affected by COVID-19 school closures. They are in Year 2 but haven’t yet had a full year at school. They have missed more than 2 terms of teaching (that’s nearly a whole school year) and so they are under huge amounts of pressure to ‘catch up’. The expectations that they must attain by the end of Year 2 remain unchanged so no allowances are made for their enormous gaps in learning. The pressure is on, not only for the teachers but also the children. And it shows.
On reflection, my feelings of disappointment about my recent parents’ evening was around my perspective being dismissed. The focus was purely on academics which I appreciate is important but for me it is only part of the puzzle of childhood. Social skills, self esteem, confidence, love for learning and team work are all just as important but they aren’t particularly measurable or valued within the National Curriculum.
And whilst the focus is on Maths and English, a huge number of children will feel like they aren’t good enough which is a tragedy. Rather than children being allowed to develop at their own pace in areas of interest, they are squashed and moulded into little boxes, becoming statistics that teachers and schools are judged on.
When I was a teacher, I tried my best to shield the children in my class from the pressure of SATs. They hardly knew anything was happening while we completed ‘special booklets’. My focus was on their emotional wellbeing and confidence, none of which are improved by assessments in my opinion. But schools are different now and the National Curriculum has changed.
So whilst I may not have gotten quite what I needed from parents’ evening, I do feel like I know how the girls are getting on academically. I know what they need to work on and areas of greater confidence. I guess I’d have preferred a more holistic approach to the conversation, but whilst the Curriculum remains polarised towards academics, perhaps this is how these meetings will remain.