This is one of the best opportunities you can have for building up relations with the home. Why is this so important? Because if the parents support your teaching, you’ve brought learning home. Few children will misbehave or girn unattractively at you if they know that their parents will descend on them like the Abyssinian hordes when they get home, because between school and home, they have nowhere to hide.
But the converse is equally true: if you lose the sympathy of the parents you might be dealing with little Sammy’s belligerence until Judgement Day. So it makes huge, perfect, glorious sense to make a meaningful contact with the parents or guardians of the students; and parents’ evening is the perfect place to do it.
So your attitude to the evening must be positive. It’s an opportunity, not a chore, despite the obvious loss of the occasional evening you endure. Here are my best tips for making them work:
• Stand up when they enter and shake their hands. Tell them how nice it is to see them, and thank them for coming in. If that sounds obvious then it’s because it is. But I am amazed to see teachers not doing this. Such a simple courtesy, effortlessly creating an atmosphere of warmth and conviviality.
• Start with something positive about the pupil; everyone, no matter how unlovely, has something nice to be said about them. ‘Charlie’s been an interesting boy to teach,’; ‘Ama has made some great contributions to debates,’ etc. Charlie and Ama might have the mark of Beelzebub tattooed on their foreheads, but do this; make an effort. Few are the parents who think their child is the naughty rascal that he or she might appear to be in school; so if you start with something negative (‘Your son is disgusting’) then the parents will instantly be defensive.
• Have some meaningful data available. You should be able to say something about their attendance, punctuality, equipment, progress, behaviour, current grade and prospects. The more evidence you have to support this, the easier it is to convince the parents if there is a problem.
• Have some bookwork to show the parents. This is a great technique, because it is indisputable (see: data, above). The parents can see how well or not little Shelley is doing by the quality of work she produces. If the work is poor, it’s an interesting talking point, and the parent is usually shocked. It’s often useful to have a great pupil’s work to show by way of contrast.
• Be aware of any specific difficulties the pupil may have. If you have a go at Robin or Ray for sloppy handwriting or spelling, and the parent says, ‘But didn’t you know he’s dyslexic, blind and has no hands?’ then you will look exactly like the pillock you are. Same goes for more able children; be aware of the gifted and talented register, and make sure that you know the pupil needs different challenges.
It might sometimes look as though you have nothing in common with the parents, but I guarantee you do: the well-being of the student. If you say, ‘We both want the best for Daniel,’ then you tacitly create rapport between you and the parents because it’s something they can’t disagree with. You do want the best for Daniel, right?
This is an excerpt from Tom Bennett’s excellent book Not Quite a Teacher, published by Continuum. The book is a practical teacher training manual, interspersed with funny stories from Tom's own teacher training experiences.
More advice for handling parents evenings
Advice from induction specialist James Williams
Five golden rules for surviving parents’ evenings
Establishing trust between parents, pupil and teachers
Useful reminder of what to cover for each child
Teachers on the TES forums share some of their favourite stories – it’s quite a read!
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