When your child hands you that letter from school inviting you to parents’ night, you could have mixed emotions. I’ve been on both sides of the fence as a parent and a teacher.
Parents’ nights should be helpful. Follow a few simple rules and get the most out of them.
Fitting in the appointment
How are you going to fit it in around work, especially if the appointments are straight after school, are you going to learn anything you don’t already know, and will you have the opportunity to raise the issues you are concerned about?
For some Mums the logistics of parents’ nights can be a nightmare- taking time off work, leaving work early and finding childcare for younger children are just some of the issues. For many parents, this involves dashing home from work, grabbing a sandwich, then it’s straight out again. If your child is at secondary school you may be there for two hours or more.
If it is really impossible for you to see the teacher at the times available, then you can ask for a different day and time. This is much easier if your child is still at primary school when a quick word after school may be all that’s needed. But do ask the teacher first and don’t assume you can nab them whenever you feel like it! Nothing makes a teacher’s heart sink more than a mum at the classroom door asking , “Can I have a quick word?” when they are dashing off to a dental appointment or the supermarket.
It’s vital you turn up on time. If you don’t, then everyone else’s appointments will be affected. If you are new to the school, think about parking and allow time to find a parking space- most secondary schools do not allow parents to park on-site and if your child’s school is in town you could find parking tricky.
It’s worth trying to find someone to look after younger children if possible. A lot depends on your child, but a wriggling, chatty toddler or a crying baby can play havoc with those precious ten minutes!
Setting the agenda
Parents’ nights can be positive and helpful, but sometimes you come away thinking “I didn’t find out anything new” or, “I didn’t have the chance to ask what I wanted.” A bit of preparation can be useful. Make a list of the issues that concern you, and don’t be afraid to consult your list. It’s easy to be side tracked by the teacher’s agenda. And if you aren’t sure about the jargon that’s sometimes used, ask. Teachers, like many professionals, can use jargon, but if you aren’t sure what a level 5B is, say so.
What should you discuss ?
Teachers too have mixed feelings about parents’ nights. Don’t use your ten minute slot to discuss major issues. What are these? Problems such as bullying, behaviour, difficult friendships, should be discussed at a separate appointment, often with more than one teacher: at secondary school this may involve a head of year and other pastoral staff. Similarly, don’t spend ten minutes discussing yesterday’s spelling or physics test. The aim of parents’ nights is to give an overview of progress and flag-up any problems before they become more serious.
And if you still have unanswered questions, just contact the school and ask for another appointment. Most schools want to work in partnership with parents ; teachers’ biggest complaint about parents’ nights is that they don’t see the parents they need to talk to! So pop that date in your diary , make your list and don’t be afraid to ask for more time if you need it.