Sometimes we interact with an event or situation simultaneously from completely different angles.
An events manager making their own family function, for example, will see the event through both personal and professional eyes. I realised that I was unwittingly experiencing 360 vision when it came to parents’ evening.
For my sense of nervous foreboding of parents’ evening remained the same whether my parents were attending alone, or I was attending as a sixth-form student. And when later I became a teacher and sat across the desk, I was still a little nervous.
As a parent I too go to my children’s parents’ evenings; albeit with less foreboding. But I have been thinking more about how we can maximise them.
One of the residual impacts of Covid is online evenings; appointments kept to a strict five minutes before timing out. The positive was that the conversation quickly “gets down to business” with a clear focus and words spent well.
There is a drawback. It’s important to build a rapport with teachers. The school is your partner in your child’s development and regular communication to build a bigger picture about your child is crucial. As a teacher I appreciate it when parents are in touch.
As a parent I know how important it is to be onside and alongside teachers and maintaining that dialogue where appropriate. So despite the travel inconvenience I’d always advocate for the in-person Evening, as well as investing some relationship-building in the conversation.
As a teacher I normally reach out to all my students’ parents at the very start of the year (or a week beforehand) to find out about my students and kick-start a dialogue; in my children’s schools this often happens too.
Parents’ evening allows everyone round the table to evaluate. As a teacher I would get to see how parent and child interact (including an unforgettable moment when I spotted a kick under the table), from queue to meeting.
As a parent I evaluate whether the teacher actually knows my child (yes it is hard, given class sizes and workload); I have no qualms asking a teacher who my child sits next to in class or who their friends are, to test if the teacher actually knows my child.
When some teachers do invariably say something negative about your precious child, try to problem-solve and find solutions. You may be able to add a bit of critical context about my child: “Yes, my child has been late but he’s been finding x difficult/making progress in other areas” or “This way of dealing with my child produces the best results.”
As a teacher I’d often find that many issues I’d see in the child actually stem from the parent – the child who came late to school, their parents were late for parents evening, or if they deflecte blame etc. I’d also be very careful not to be too critical of the child when I felt this wouldn’t achieve anything.
Above all, parents’ evening is an affirmation that education matters. When we fix time for something it shows a certain value (hence the talmudic accolade to those who fix times for prayer and Torah study). When we take time out of a naturally busy week to focus on education together, this makes an impression.
When we attend parents’ evening we refocus on our child’s education – and especially if the child attends with us, we are affirming that “we are all on the same page”.
Finally, as a parent when you do get home and tell your angel of a child what happened at parents evening, this is always best done privately – away from other children. And as above, focus on solutions.
Rabbi Fine is education director of Seed and teaches at Hasmonean High School