Monday, April 28, 2008

I hate parent teacher interviews

While I was talking to the first parent, the room started to shift around her. I felt spacey. It was probably the lighting in our school gym where we were all lined up in exam like rows. And the dread of the ordeal facing me. So to focus, I concentrated on her protruding teeth and her badly dyed blonde hair; her eyes were wrinkled around the edges from self-deprecating obsequious smiling.

“How’s her spelling?” she asked. “I can’t understand why she can’t spell. I never had a problem with spelling.”

How many parents tell the teacher – me, or me at ages 21 to 51 – except for that blissful ten years when I taught adults and didn’t have to wade through this necessary shit – what they were like as students? Or they tell their kids off in front of the teacher, as if that will have more effect, or to show that they are serious parents and it’s not their fault that their kid is recalcitrant, or whatever.

I asked Fart Boy, when he made his appointment, how he thought his parents would react if I told them how many times he disrupted the class with his explosive bowels.

“My dad will think it’s hysterical,” he boasted. “He taught me everything I know.” And then I meet mum and dad; middle aged, ordinary people. Fart Boy has preempted anything I might say to his parents. They allude to it. I tell them he says his dad thinks it’s funny. Dad looks embarrassed. Clearly, small conservative bald dad isn’t full of the bravado that his son is.

At my most recent parent teacher day/evening, between one and eight pm, with an hour break, I spoke to forty four families. Mostly the interviews were positive, but three were appalling. How can these ignoramuses possibly think that it serves their kids well if they give the teacher a serve?

They just don’t pay me enough for this torture.

In one interview, this harassed looking thirty something is restraining a struggling toddler on her knee. Another of her children stands quietly, its nose level with the edge of the table. Her daughter, my student, stands quietly behind her mother and father while the woman attacks me because I’ve given her daughter an ‘unsatisfactory’ on her interim report. She challenges every aspect of my teaching, makes me explain all my teaching methodology and then still won’t accept that her child deserved the grade. And she’s shouting and waving her free hand around while the toddler squirms to free itself. The woman is dressed in business clothes. Looks like she’s come straight from work. Her babies are driving her batty and perhaps she feels inadequate because she hasn’t paid enough attention to her daughter’s progress. So I have to pay the price and sit passively and wear her aggression because the customer is always right in these market driven league table days. She even slaps at the sign hanging on the front of the table which says I’m the English coordinator. “Coordinator. Hmmmph!” she says.

Furthermore, what does a kid’s grey unshaven father think will be achieved if he abuses the teacher on the basis of some spurious allegation made by his daughter, possibly to avoid a beating? This unkempt down-at-heel father sits in front of me. Because I’m dazed by the lights and the thirty something families I’ve already interviewed, I don’t immediately perceive his rage. He glares at me. Why have I made an example of his daughter because she didn’t have her text book? What?? That’s not true, I manage, but he’s not listening. A small crowd waits behind him. He’s right up in my face, eyes blazing, lips a thin line. Breathing at me. I tell him I won’t speak to him unless he calms down, which enrages him further. His daughter sits smugly beside him while he explodes. I stand and tell him the interview is over and begin to walk away.

“I demand to see the head-master,” he says. “Where is he? Where is he?”

“It’s a woman,” I say, and begin to walk away but he blocks my path. Meanwhile, my colleague intervenes and tries to direct the man away from the masses of parents witnessing the assault on the hapless teacher.

I head into an office with my heart beating rapidly and steady myself for about twenty seconds before I return to the hall and sit to interview the next parents. The mother immediately puts me at ease.

“It’s all right,” she says. “I understand. I’m a teacher.”

1 comment:

Yarshk said...

What a roller coaster ride. I totally see why my teachers get so exhausted after parent teach interviews.

And what strange people there are in the world.

p.s. I like your cool calm reaction to conflict.