5 things parents want to tell teachers at parents' evening
"Parents’ evening can be a daunting and emotive event for parents, and a stressful and exhausting one for teachers, but it needn’t be," according to teacher, author and parent, Dr Emma Kell.
We asked her to explore what parents and teachers think about parents' evening as part of our new series of Teacher Support resources.
She says: I must admit that, as a teacher, some of the feedback offered by parents was hard to process without becoming defensive, but it’s definitely given me plenty of food for thought.”
“Ultimately, parenting and teaching are two of the trickiest and most important jobs there are. If we can build more bridges between parents and teachers and remind ourselves and each other that we’re doing the best we can, the impact on our young people can only be positive.”
Here are Dr Emma Kell's top 5 tips from parents, for teachers.
1 - Be honest, be human
For many parents, walking into a classroom triggers powerful memories, and they can find themselves regressing back to their student-selves with their fears of physics or insecurities about sport.
A warm welcome and direct, honest communication that shows that, as teacher, you know and care about their child too can make the world of difference.
We know teachers spend all day talking to young people, but, as one parent pleads, ‘please don’t talk to us as though we are stupid or children!’
Parents have some idea of the kinds of pressures teachers are under and most sympathise – if you’ve made a mistake as a teacher, don’t be afraid to apologise.
2 - Please explain!
Teachers may live and breathe them every day, but school systems and procedures around data and progress are highly complex! Please take the time to explain these to parents.
As one said, ‘we don’t mind being told twice!’
Another reminds is that ‘this is the first time I’ve done this Please walk me through it – treat me gently because I’m finding this hard!’
3 - Understand individual needs
I’ve heard from a large number of parents of children with specific needs or vulnerabilities.
Whilst parents appreciate that teachers have lots to do, it is a professional duty of teachers to read up and understand a child’s needs - and a legal duty in the case of EHCPs (Education, Health and Care Plans).
Schools may need to re-think training to ensure that teachers have the toolkit they need to work with children with, for example, allergies, autism, colour-blindness and dyslexia.
Life for parents of children with special needs is tough, with funding at crisis point. Many feel they need to fight for the best interests of their child.
One parent, who calls herself ‘warrior mum’ insist that ‘we are not asking for support and reasonable adjustments to be difficult; it’s because they need it; Teachers need to understand that this is not personal. ‘I am,’ says another parent ‘your biggest ally’.
I have also heard from lots of parents of ‘quiet’ or introverted children. Please don’t tell these children to ‘be more assertive’. Likewise, don’t assume that they don’t need the same amount of acknowledgement as the more apparently confident children in the classroom.
Oh, and just because a child is well-behaved doesn’t mean they can be used as a behaviour-management asset and seated next to the most boisterous child in the room!
4 - Remember, parents have lives too!
Having parent consultations and assemblies in the middle of a weekday afternoon can be an absolute nightmare for many parents, including those who work long hours (sometimes as teachers themselves!) and single parents.
Schools should ensure that such events are scheduled well in advance and shared with parents so appropriate provisions can be made.
But whilst parents may struggle to make sports day, come in to help with reading or assemble a world book day costume, many parents have skills and expertise of their own which they’d love to share with young people.
As one parent said: ‘I am happy to show you a STEM lab, male and female surgeons and give you ideas for careers you might not have heard of’. Schools should jump at such offers!
5 - Differing priorities
Teachers could be forgiven for imagining that data is all that matters. For most parents I spoke to, a colour-coded spreadsheet is at best confusing and at worst dehumanising.
I know from first-hand experience that I glow at being told about a moment when my child demonstrated kindness or resilience far more than I do at learning she got 90% in a French vocabulary test.
As a parent put it: "For me: the 'appearance' of successful learning (manifested in tangibles such as grades, inspection results, even school uniform) matter a lot less than intangibles such as relationships, wellbeing, equality and social change."
Oh, and marking, which dominates so many teachers’ lives is not something parents get overly concerned about, according to those I’ve consulted. As one succinctly put it: "I don’t give a toss what colour you mark in."
Finally a gentle reminder from a parent, which made me smile: "My name is not Mum!"
If you’re a teacher in need of support, call Education Support's free and confidential 24/7 emotional support helpline on 08000 562 561.