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My first parents' evening

The prospect of her first parents' evening may have been daunting, but Jennifer Kelly learned not to panic and enjoyed the experience.

French Teacher, Aboyne Academy, Aberdeenshire

As a probationer, you have to tackle a lot of firsts. There's your first day, your first meeting with the staff and your first meeting with the kids to name a few.

I was so caught up in making good first impressions, planning elaborate lessons and making sure I regularly evaluated that I forgot all about the scary prospect of meeting parents for the first time.

My first daunting experience of this came 10 weeks into my probation year. My mind was glued to S2 assessments, marking Standard Grade folios and prelims when suddenly my little gems began demanding 'the best' appointments for Monday night.

While I scribbled down names next to the most sought-after time slots, I started to panic. What should I say? How do I open the meeting? What if I want to talk about bad behaviour? Will they even like me? Will they question what I'm saying? The list of worries was endless.

Preparation

I spent hours looking at jotters, test marks and homework, wondering how I could phrase what I wanted to say without upsetting or angering parents. I used my old friend Google to find ideas, but couldn't find exactly what I was looking for.

I decided to ask for advice and as soon as I spoke to my mentor I realised that every teacher still worries about making a good impression with parents. I was given extremely useful pointers such as maintaining eye contact, always smiling and outlining the course content. These all seemed obvious but, for some reason, disappeared from my mind as soon as I sat down to devise my plan of action.

After thinking about the whole process I realised that parents' evenings are just like delivering a lesson in the sense that everyone has their own style. I was fully aware that different teachers teach in different ways but this reasoning went out the window as soon as I let myself panic about making a good impression with parents.

Be honest

Parents come to parents' evening to see how their children are getting on in class and with you. They don't want to see you acting or pretending to be something you're not. They want to see the teacher that their child goes home talking about.

I realised that I just needed to be myself and tell them exactly how their child was getting on. All you need to remember is to be tactful and sensitive, especially if what you need to say involves misbehaviour. Parents want to know if their child is behaving in class. They don't want you to stretch the truth just so you can get on their good side.

Be yourself

I looked to my own learning and teaching style to direct the way I delivered my comments. I am a list-maker, efficient if organised, yet not so efficient when playing with spontaneity. I therefore decided to make a detailed written evaluation of each pupil's class work, homework, behaviour, participation, improvements and test results.

I realised later that this process had greatly improved my understanding of individuals' strengths and weaknesses as well as providing me with a basis for talking to parents.

The evaluations helped to achieve success at the parents' evening as well as improving my teaching. The point is that you should use a strategy that compliments your style. If you feel more comfortable talking spontaneously without relying on a list for direction, then go for it.

There is not a single tried-and-tested way of preparing for a parents evening; the important thing is to trust your instincts and stick by your decisions.

Enjoy the experience

My first parents' evening flew by and I found that I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. It was fantastic to give positive feedback to parents and see how proud they were of their children. It felt brilliant to be the bearer of good news.

All you have to remember is to be honest and polite. Focus on the positives and ask for more, rather than dwelling for too long on the negative.

Finally, remember to enjoy yourself. At a tired time in the year it is easy to plateau and forget your passion for teaching but I found that this was re-ignited after talking for two hours about the thing that I love doing. Before you know it you will be looking forward to your next parents' evening.