A couple of weeks’ ago, I attended my Stepdaughter’s Year 9 Parents’ Evening. It was a novelty for me; being on the other side of the ultimate speed-dating event. And yes, I do say speed-dating, because it is series of 5 minute talking slots in which you must get to know as much as possible about your child’s current learning and school situation.
It was a valuable practical learning experience that I never realised I would have. So, in following with this, here are some tips to Teachers from the other side on how to handle Parents’ Evening.
Use your time wisely and efficiently
Most likely (particularly at Secondary School), you have been allocated 5 minute slots for each student. If you know you tend to run over those 5 minutes, make a plan to block out every other slot (if you have that freedom in the organisation). This will ensure that you have don’t get a queue of irate parents who are trying to fit to a time schedule of their own. On the back of that, be mindful that parents may not have that luxury and are attending interviews back to back. I suggest always asking at the beginning if they have to meet another teacher straight after you. This way you can plan your time accordingly and it lets the parents know that you are also aware of them. It’s not much, but it’s taking the time to be interested.
Talk to the parents, not to the student
You talk to your students all day, you only have 5 minutes to get the most out of meeting with the parents. I cannot say how awkward it is to be sitting there as a parent when the Teacher basically ignores them the whole time and speaks only to the student. Chances are that the student isn’t even going to remember what you’re saying, but the parent most definitely will.
Don’t assume that the parent understands everything that you’re talking about
You were also once a child. Be honest with yourself, how often did you come home from school and give a detailed account to your parents about your day and what you’re learning? The most that they probably got out of you was, ‘Yea, it was alright’, or ‘Not much’. Trust me, things haven’t changed. Especially as lingo and School testing will have changed and developed since you were at school. Think about how long it took for you to get your head around the idea of a grading system of 1-9 instead of A-F/U and apply that to the parents' thinking. Obviously, be careful to not speak down to them, but if there are important assessments happening, make sure that you’re explaining that. Saying ‘So we’re currently working on the 16-point exam question’ with no other context will simply not cut it.
Make it worthwhile
No doubt, it’s a tough night for teachers. It can last up to three hours and, if you have a full load, it can be unrelenting. Parents are not necessarily always aware of that – but why should they be as well? Their main priority is their child. Plan what you need to say. You will have in advance your schedule of who you’re seeing and when. Prepare yourself; print out data sheets that you need, highlight the students’ names of who you will be seeing and make notes to them. Notes that are worthwhile are current levels, what they might need to improve on and generally how they’re doing their class. The parents do not need vague information that might not even relate. Teachers who are prepared are bound to impress the parents.
Know who your students are
This may seem obvious, but one of the teachers we saw did not pronounce the name of her student correctly and used the excuse that she always gets it wrong. She was a language teacher, so isn't pronunciation important here??? Of course there are so many students that you teach, but use the photos and the schedule to help, if it really is a challenge. Because all it is to parents is an insult; and you’re more likely to lose the attention and the focus of that student.
Show passion for your subject
OK, I understand this might be hard after long day and a long term, but there’s nothing more that puts the parent off or validates a student’s behaviour if you admit that what you’re teaching is boring or not of value. How do you expect to get the parents or students on board if you yourself cannot engage with the teaching?
This last tip is mostly to help with your sanity on Parent Interview night. If you have a gap in your schedule, don’t stay at your desk if you want a break. Parents who have not booked will take that opportunity to come and meet with you, no matter what the school policy says. Use that time wisely: take a toilet break, fill up your water bottle, and cherish those moments of not talking.
For most of you, these tips will seem like common sense, but don’t take them for granted. A parent can tell a lot in one night about what kind of Teacher their child has. Leave a positive and respected impression more than anything else!