Parents’ evenings: an insider’s guide!

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So far here at more than a mum, we have focused on toddlers and Mums.  That is where Loretta and I are at with our own parenting.  Today, I want to discuss something for parents of older children: school parents’ eveningsParents' evening

As you may know I (Ruth) am a secondary school teacher and recently when attending a Mums get together, I chatted to a number of women with older children.  Something that they all said was that one of the toughest  parenting challenges they faced was school. In part, this was due to finding they didn’t understand “the system”.

One area where many parents can feel lost is parents’ evening.  You may feel anxious and as if you are on trial, waiting for the verdict to be pronounced on you via your little darling’s achievements or misdemeanours. Teachers have to see tens of parents in very short order and (at secondary school, especially) you are often only allocated a 5-10minute slot with each teacher.  You want to spend as long as necessary, but are aware of the queue building behind you and the mounting chorus of sighs and tuts.

Firstly I thought it may be useful to tell you how the teacher may be feeling.  I cannot say that this goes for all teachers; I can only talk from my own experience. The thoughts below are amalgamation of my own thoughts, experiences and observations through ten years of teaching.

“As a teacher I am frustrated by the short time slots. They don’t allow me to talk properly with parents.  I am also very aware of the huge queue building up and wary of the parent who wants to talk for the entire evening.  I would like to build a good relationship with parents but often don’t feel that there is the time on these evenings.

“For parents of children who are doing well, I may not say much.  I want these students to do well, but as their families are obviously already doing all the right things, spending ages talking them is not my priority. I may tell you statistics and use acronyms without explaining them to you – this because I forget that you may not understand and I know it they mean that your child is doing well.

“For parents of children who need more support in learning or behaviour, I may appear to lecture you and not let you get a word in edgeways.  This is because there are a number of things that I need to say to you and I am aware that time is short. I am used to talking to students who are expected to listen and can sometimes forget that I’m not in the classroom.  I want you to be involved; in fact I need you to be involved if we are going to help your child.”

So, that was my view on the part of the teacher in parents’ evening, but as the name suggests, it should not be about the teacher. The second part of this blog is therefore, over to you.  Please add your questions and answers below.  As a parent, what do you want to know about parents’ evenings? What most frustrates you?  What is the thing you always want to find out, but never can? Which acronyms do you need explaining? Has your child’s school really got something right? Have you got a parents’ evening insight to share?

Also, are there any more teachers out there (I know there’s a few of us hiding, unnoticed in the mummy-blogging community!) who could share a hint or tip for parents about how to make parents’ evenings a successful interaction for all concerned?  Or can any of you answer the questions posted?  I hope that this blog will get a dialogue going and help to remove at least some of the barriers of “the system” that the women I spoke to seemed to have found.



10 thoughts on “Parents’ evenings: an insider’s guide!

    jfb57 said:
    November 21, 2011 at 8:27 am

    Hello Ruth!
    Great to make contact here. I feel parents evenings are wrongly named. I think the format they are at present they should be ‘information evenings’. I would love to know what sort of format parents would really like. We found that opening the doors for parents to come and share time during lessons was a great way to get our message across and to make parents feel a little less in awe.

      morethanamummy responded:
      November 21, 2011 at 8:33 am

      I love the idea of letting parents in during lesson times; must have helped people get a real feel for things. I think your comment “I would love to know what sort of format parents would really like” is key. I have worked in several schools with serveral approaches, but I’m not sure any of them asked the parents’ first…

    pigletinapoke said:
    November 21, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Hi Ruth! Good blog idea this. I am always left wondering why I bothered going along to parents evenings. I get little information and, since they come usually after the report has arrived home, I rarely feel I learn anything new. I’m also frustrated by a report that states a drop in effort or behaviour grade (which may indicate a problem) and then asking the teacher concerned about it only to be told “There’s no problem”. Why worry me in the first place then? Grrrr! I think more detailed reports with an option to then follow up with the teacher if there are any concerns are much more valuable than a generalised, shunt-along parents evening. But that’s just my view. Well done for getting it out of me! x

      morethanamummy responded:
      November 21, 2011 at 2:26 pm

      I think you would be agreed with by a large number of teachers. Often parents’ evening are one of the worst forums for parent-teacher communication, but they seem to be engrained in the system and no one knows what else to do. I suppose the problem with the more detailed report would be that they take time and admin to put together and that the parents who perhaps most needed to call for follow-up wouldn’t. Though it is debatable whether they come to parents’ evening either. I agree no grade should be dropped without an explanation – that’s unhelpful. In one school where I worked, we scrapped parents evenings in favour of individual half hour appointments with the child’s parent(s) and tutor where all areas of academics and pastoral were discussed. The problem with this was that to fit everyone in, these took place in the day and parents had to take time off work.

    Jo Carroll said:
    November 21, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    I do understand that parents’ evenings are stressful for teachers.

    But it can also be hugely stressful for parents too – especially those of us who had a less-than-perfect time at school. I still carry so many unpleasant headmistress-office memories that facing a teacher, even as a parent, still makes me feel like I did then. But it’s never acknowledged – it would be so much easier if there was a way to acknowledge that we all carry luggage from our school days and that parents’ evenings are the occasion when it feels heaviest.

      morethanamummy responded:
      November 21, 2011 at 2:20 pm

      I agree, absolutely. Thank you for being brave and saying what I’m sure a lot of people are thinking. Teachers often find it hard to step out of role and forget that you are not a pupil. If you did not enjoy school yourself this wil no doubt make the experience even less enjoyable. What do you think would make the situation easier? Would you prefer having a more personal evening witha key teacher or would this be more intense? A tip I’d have for you – if you’re feeling brave – would be to tell your child’s tutor/head of year that you didn’t enjoy school yourself, but don’t want to pass this on to your child, and that parents’ evenings make you uncomfortable. Hopefully the school can then find a way to support you.

      Anyone else got any tips about this?

    Corinne said:
    November 21, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    I am an ex-teacher and a parent to a year 8 student so have seen both sides to this. I found my son’s parents evening stressful and disorganised and like I couldn’t see the staff I really wanted to see. I also had an argument with one of his teachers, so altogether it wasn’t too great! There is so much pressure for teachers and parents with the small time slots it’s really not a great way of doing things.

    I have just had one of those short progress reports from my son’s school and had some concerns so have called and spoken to his head of year. She is going to chase up the teachers involved and see what we can do to help get my son back on track for meeting his ‘levels’. I would actually recommend trying to talk to the school if you have concerns rather than waiting for a parent’s evening.

    I only understand the system because I taught, teachers forget that much of what they say sounds like a foreign language to parents and it can make you feel like you’re stupid, when in reality it is just acronyms and levels and targets. To a lay person it can be quite confusing.

    As a parent I want to know is my child behaving appropriately, are they meeting their potential, are there any problems and what can I do to help them improve. Give it to us straight and forget all the jargon.

      morethanamummy responded:
      November 21, 2011 at 3:05 pm

      I couldn’t agree more – I am really looking forward to seeing parents’ evenings from the other side of the desk. I am sure it is going to make me realise a fair few things about myself as a teacher…

    Rebecca said:
    November 21, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    I think they are stressful for everyone. It’s so hard talking all evening when you’ve had a full day of work already.

    My tip for parents is to write down questions to bring if there’s anything worrying you. Also if you know you have a lot to talk about if you are Ben from outnumbereds parents then make another appointment where you can get more time. If you have an issue with the school that’s not to do with the classroom then you can also make an apponitm with the head. Once had a parent spend the whole time complaining about the library and we never even got on to talking about their child.

      morethanamummy responded:
      November 21, 2011 at 6:19 pm

      Good tip about writing things down – come with your priorities written down and you wont forget them. I think the parents’ evening timing is unfoprtunate; atlthough the plus side is that parents’ don’t have to take time off work, often teachers and parents (and kids if they come) alike are tired from the day so no one is at their best. Have worked in a school which had a review day, where the kids were off and had to come in with their parents for a meeting with Head of Year and Tutor. Probably a nightmare for parents with childcae, but a really good way of communticating with parents.

      Also important to say that you can mak appointments to meet with Heads, teachers and tutors alike. If there is something you want to talk about in depth a phone call or meeting should always be possible. Again, write things down before these so that you get to ask all the things you want to ask.

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