Parents' Evening Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Parents' Evening

3 Conversations

Parents' evening is an event occurring at least once a year in the calendar of most schools, where the parents come in after school1 to see their child's work and have a talk with their teacher.

This is often a fraught time for all concerned; the teachers, for example, have to spend more time in school after working hours than they do normally and, on top of that, they have to spend the evening with the awful class they thought they'd left behind when school ended. If they're teaching in a private school this is even worse, as they also have to impress the parents with their child's progress and prove they're giving the parents good value for money. In a free state school2, a student's lack of progress is considered to be more the student's fault than the teacher's. The only real bonus for the teachers concerned is that class behaviour is likely to improve in the run up to the parents evening, in the same way it will while the teacher is writing end-of-year reports.

For parents, the evening can be an insight into their children's school lives, which they are otherwise quite isolated from - but there's every chance they have better things to do.

For the students, parents' evening can also be a hideous experience, even if they've been good for most of the year. If you're a shy person who does well in class, for example, it can be extremely embarrassing to be dragged around teacher after teacher, all of whom are singing your praises. If, of course, you're getting bad reports and your parents aren't prepared for this, it can be even worse, particularly when they get you home. And let's not forget what might happen if your parents – shudder – run into your friends, and their parents. Despite this, parents' evening occurs in most schools, and it's generally advisable to go to at least one at key times. There are three distinct types you should watch out for:

The Free-flow Parents' Evening

This is where the parents will simply turn up in your class after school sometime to have a little chat with your teacher and a quick poke through your work. This commonly occurs in primary schools. Conversations with the teacher, while sometimes timed, are generally longer and more meaningful than in the appointment-based evenings. For the student, this is usually the best type of parents' evening. There's a nice spark of pride involved in showing your parents where you work and as there are no formal interviews the teacher will probably be a bit more forgiving. It's best to choose the work you show them very carefully, however.

The Appointment-based Parents' Evening

In this one, the teachers will be gathered together, often in a single building. To see a teacher on this evening, a student has to go up to them beforehand and ask for an appointment at a certain time. These appointments are supposed to last five minutes, but timings can vary wildly. Often a teacher can be so backlogged that you find yourself waiting for a good 15 minutes, only to have a basic two-minute chat session. Additionally, the hall is certain to be crammed to the brim. Privacy is a problem.

The Drag-around Parents' Evening

This is a little ill-defined. Sometimes it's like a free-flow parents' evening where you go around a succession of classrooms instead of one. There's usually a teacher in each, with a small queue of parents and children behind them. Sometimes it's like an appointment-based parents' evening with longer distances between appointments. This will often lead to madcap rushes through school corridors, only to find that the teacher concerned has a ten-minute queue stretched out behind her. In some countries3, the pupils will get the day off and the parents' 'evening' will stretch right through the day.

Some Advice

Yes, parents' evenings are can be fairly grim events. But they're often fairly necessary to keep students on the straight and narrow. A short, sit-down discussion of the positives and negatives will often help solve problems, and since the school reports come only once a year... At heart, they're pretty dull, but there are ways around some of the difficulties you're bound to face. Parents and students - here are a few tips for survival:

  • Spend as little time there as possible. In a free-flow parents' evening, of course, you can just come in and go out as you wish, but in an appointment-based evening this requires a little more planning. Make sure your appointments are as close together as possible, though it is often wise to have a five-minute break to collect yourself.

  • Bring your own food. It is an iron law of parents' evenings that the only refreshments available will be weak orange squash and stale biscuits, both of which will be ludicrously overpriced. If you think you're going to be hungry, bring something of your own along4!

  • Law and Order. It may be that you'll come to a teacher who has seriously overrun and has half an hour's worth of parents standing by their door. In this case, don't try and scrum your way through the door whenever someone leaves, but form an orderly queue based on time of appointment. Hopefully the adults will understand.

  • Be collected. You only get a maximum of five minutes' discussion, so if they're are any things you need to know or questions you seriously want to ask, make sure you've got them all worked out before hand. Better still, write them down on a piece of paper and take it in to your appointment.

  • Don't go. Simple, but effective.

1With or without their children - this varies from school to school2That is, paid for by taxes3This happens in Germany, but there could be others.4For students, it is worth noting that teachers suffer from this problem too. Of course, bribery is strictly forbidden in most schools, but you may find 'an apple for the teacher' will make your interview much happier.

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