How To Get The Most Out Of Parents' Evenings

24/02/2014 14:21 | Updated 22 May 2015

How to get the most out of parents' eveningsPA

It may be the all-pervasive smell from the dining hall, or the tiny chair you have to perch on, but emotions run high when you say the words Parents' Evening.

Arranging to be there, especially if you have to take time off work or find a babysitter for a younger sibling, can resemble a military operation.

It's not so hard when your child is at primary school - if you can't make the evening, then the class teacher is usually able to fit you in at another time – but don't assume! No teacher wants a dozen parents who need accommodating at other times.

If your child is at secondary school, then meeting up to a dozen teachers and making the most of your precious five minutes is another matter. It's a different ball game where negotiating mazes of corridors and finding the right teacher becomes your priority.

Many parents find these meetings frustrating; you often come away feeling no wiser and the questions you had have gone unanswered. On the plus side, you do get to meet the teacher, put a face to names, and hopefully see your child's work.

So what's the trick to getting the most out of your time with the teacher?

Having been on the other side of the desk at one stage of my life, it might help to share the "cringe factors" for teachers.

Big Issues need to be discussed - but your five or 10 minute slot is not the time to discuss bullying, behavioural problems, discord at home or the intricacies of your child's fickle friendships. All of these necessitate another meeting when there won't be a queue of 30 impatient parents behind you.

The point of parent's evenings is to give you a snapshot of your child's progress and to share any issues you have, which may need further discussion.

How to be the Perfect Parent ( at parents' evening at least)

• Be on time. If you turn up 10 minutes late you will create unmitigated chaos. If you miss your appointment, see the next teacher on the list so you don't cause a backlog for the first teacher.

• Check the parking arrangements. Might sound obvious, but most secondary schools cannot cater for a hundred parents' cars in the school car park. If there are parking restrictions, you could spend 30 minutes finding a parking space then have to walk to school.

• Leave the toddlers at home. If you have the option, don't take a wriggling toddler with you. There's a limit to your multi-tasking.

• Make a list. You'll do it mentally anyway - but once you have thought of the main points you want to discuss, write them down. This makes you look efficient and will stop dead in their tracks any teacher who gets bogged down with Lucy's maths test yesterday, when you really want to discuss her chances for Oxford - or something like that.

• Don't let the teacher talk jargon. It happens all the time. Teachers are experts at flinging terms like "Level 3c" and, "Moving towards a 2b," into the conversation. Unless you are a teacher, it's meaningless. Tell them. Similarly, if they start talking about synthetic phonics or a mixed approach to reading or, at the other end of the scale, quantum physics, and you don't quite get it - say so. It's easy to feel that you should know - but why should you?

• Don't get bogged down with trivial incidents. It is so tempting – I know- to want to offload about an incident at playtime yesterday that upset your child, or the ups and downs of teen friendships, but you only have a few minutes.

• Ask for another appointment. If you start talking about something and your time is up, ask if you can see the teacher again. This may involve other members of staff, and take a while to organise - but don't let it go if it's important to you.

To take or not take your child?

Older children are often invited to parent's evenings. Some have no choice, but sometimes it's optional. Should you take them along- or not?

• It can be great for your child to receive praise in front of their parents.

• If you are in danger of being a nagging mum or dad, it has more effect if the teacher tells them to pull up their socks.

• It can be a disadvantage if you want to discuss something that is currently confidential. For instance: if you and your partner are on the verge of splitting up, or have financial worries, or something is happening at home that may impact on your child's learning, you may want to tell the teacher - but not your child. There are ways round this: ask if you can have a word in private, or make another appointment.

• If there is something of a personality clash between your child and the teacher – it does happen occasionally- talking to the teacher together can smooth the way.

If you have two or more children, you will be invited to something in excess of 20 parents' evenings before they leave school. Getting what you want out them is easy if you know how.

What are you pet hates for parents' evenings?

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