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Surviving your first parents’ evening as an NQT

If you’re nervous about your first parents’ evening, Hazel Bennett’s advice can help you avoid confrontation and build a relationship that benefits all parties…

Hazel Bennett
by Hazel Bennett
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It is important to manage parents carefully, because they can be an invaluable support or a constant source of aggravation.

Consultation evenings are significant because they give teachers an opportunity to build up a mutually supportive relationship with parents and carers, and for parents to tell teachers anything about the children’s home circumstances that might affect their learning.

It is best to start with the premise that parents and teachers all want children to succeed, so they should be on the same side, working together.

Building a positive relationship

If you are a student on a placement, always ask if you can sit in during the interviews, because you might pick up tips on how to establish a positive relationship and cope with parents who are difficult.

Ask for a class list with the names of parents because often one parent has a different surname to the child, and they appreciate your getting their names right.

When the parents enter the room, look pleased to see them and shake hands. If you start by asking if their child is happy in school, it lets them see that this is important to you. If they say no, ask why, so that you can help sort out any difficulties.

Make notes to let them see that you are taking them seriously. Follow through anything that you agree to do and then stay in touch afterwards.

It is reassuring to parents to tell them that they do not need to wait until parents’ evening to see you: if they have a problem they can make an appointment to see any time.

Anticipating difficulties

Most parents have very positive, supportive attitudes towards their children’s education, but a minority can be hostile.

If you are an NQT or student on a placement, always ask the previous teacher if there are any parents who are likely to be difficult and ask for advice on how to handle them. Most teachers are willing to support NQTs on how to avoid problems.

Occasionally, there can be parents who are known to be violent and teachers are warned never to be alone with them. If you have one of these, make sure you ask for a senior member of staff to be in the room for the interview. In some schools, the head or deputy patrols the corridor as a matter of course.

On very rare occasions, a parent can make a habit of coming along in a state of some intoxication. Once, anticipating this, I arranged the interview early in the morning. Even at that early hour, the parent turned up slightly under the influence and I was careful to keep a wide table between us while a senior member of staff sat at the other end of the room, pretending to work.

Managing interviews

Try to stick to the timetable. If a parent wants to over-run, look at your watch and say, ‘I’m sorry, but my next parent is due,’ and stand up. If a parent comes late, don’t let them push in. In both cases, offer to make another appointment.

Never let a parent know if you dislike their child. Always say something positive.

If you have something negative to say, always put it in factual terms without any negative adjectives. Say, ‘I have seen your son deliberately knocking children’s coats off their pegs and then denying it.’ Not, ‘Your son aggravates and tells lies.’ The facts speak for themselves and it is more difficult to argue with them.

If you have difficulty with a pupil, make it clear that your concern is the child’s benefit. Say, ‘I am worried that she is not making the most of her opportunities and will fall behind and underachieve.’ Not, ‘I am fed up with her laziness and lack of interest.’

Dealing with complaints

If a parent has a complaint – and some are justifiable – listen calmly, and if you think the complaint is justified, say, ‘Thank you for drawing my attention to this’. Then tell them how you will to rectify the situation.

However, if you think the problem of the child’s or parents’ making, say why, calmly, and point out how they can rectify the situation.

If a parent is rude or aggressive, stay calm, look them in the eye and let them see that you are not dismayed by them. Say, politely but firmly, ‘I am not going to continue this interview with you speaking in an uncivil manner. If you cannot speak politely, this interview is over’.

That usually works, but if it doesn’t, stand up and ask them to leave. If they do not either calm down or leave, just walk out, and make sure you tell your head who should support you.

I once had a parent who spent the session looking down his nose at me with a contemptuous look on his face. I had to stare straight into his eyes, smiling and pretending I had not noticed his attitude.

You have to remember that these parents are not tough: they lack confidence are putting on a front to intimidate you. If you ignore it, you can wear it away more quickly.

Try to finish on a positive note. Shake hands and thank them for any support they have offered. If you ever do have unpleasantness with parents, never let it grow. Next time you see them, smile and say, ‘Good afternoon’, because it makes life easier if you can work in harmony.

Be prepared

Use the following checklist to make sure you make the most of your next parents’ evening…

  1. Never start interviews straight after the children go home. You need a short break for a drink and perhaps a discreet wash or change of clothes.
  2. Look through the pupils’ books and write notes, because it is difficult to keep everything in your head.
  3. Make sure the marking is up to date to the previous day at the latest.
  4. If you have to say something negative about the pupil’s work, make sure you have the books ready to show them. It’s hard for parents to argue if the evidence is in front of them.
  5. If you have to take issue with a parent on something like punctuality or homework, read the school policy beforehand to make sure you have all your facts right. Keep a copy in your drawer ready to show the parents in case they protest.

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