The Fear Factor: Surviving Parent-Teacher Evenings.

In December I have a parent-teacher evening to attend at the local comp. The word “unenthusiastic” would be an understatement: I am now contemplating the acquisition of a survival bag, brandy flask and stock of cookies for the occasion.

These marathons generally take up to three hours, and use up all my annual stock of British calm. The system is simple: each teacher sits in a room alone. Parents are instructed to write their names on a list outside the rooms for each teacher they want to see, without leaving any lines free. Meetings last five minutes – it’s a bit like speed-dating, but without the romance. The only saving grace for most mothers is getting to see the sports teacher, who is generally fit in every sense of the word.

MM, Ready to join the fray. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

MM, Ready to join the fray. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

If parent-teacher evenings were a TV show, they would be a combination of Benny Hill and Fear Factor. The doors open at the designated time, and parents flood in as if it was Black Friday at Harrod’s. The sooner you are on the lists, the sooner you can get home, and all the parents know it. You chase through the rabbit warren of corridors on different floors to find all the rooms, and when you have written your name on the relevant lists, you pelt back to your first appointment with thirty seconds to spare, only to discover that your name has been struck through because you were not there. This leaves you with a mile-long list of names before the next availability – close to breakfast time. So you chase on to your next appointment, and see that the parent before you has not turned up, so you have been struck off the list again. Get the gist? Bis repetita, ad nauseam, all evening.

Parents share their strategies in hushed whispers. I have tried several. None of them work, and after calculation my mean average time after eight years in comprehensive school corridors is still closer to three hours than two, whatever the strategy used.

This year I observed a new trend in parental strategy: teamwork. Organized couples arrived at five o’clock sharp, equipped with back packs, sports shoes and mobile phones. They shared the list of teachers out equally, pecked each other lovingly on the lips then checked their watches and shot off in separate directions. I suspect that they also had detailed maps, army rations, hydration packs and walkie-talkie wrist watches gleaned from their kids’ cereal packets. Yet three hours later they hadn’t seen the physics teacher, either.

MM prepared twin rockets to send Wondeure Woomane into space, should she be unwise enough to attempt jumping the queue.

MM prepared twin rockets to send Wondeure Woomane into space, should she be unwise enough to attempt jumping the queue. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Then there is the bolder strategy of queue pushing. The most wily queue-pusher is my nemesis, Wondeure Woomane (aka WW). She generally has a file under her arm, and strides purposefully down the corridor like she’s lived there all her life. This confuses everyone long enough for her to sashay into the room and take a seat, whether or not it is her turn. Taking twice the allotted time, she briefs the teacher on how to get the best out of her over-achieving genius. When she finally breezes past the growling posse of parents at the door, their faces betray their hope that her homemade salt dough pendant will swing twice round her neck and throttle her on her way down the corridor.

I should have learned by now, though. I have been attending school meetings with Wondeure Woomane for 15 years. By the time my third contribution to the Franco-British entente cordiale hit infant school, I had become one of those war-scarred veterans who sat in the corner muttering Yoda-like incantations as WW machine-gunned the teacher with her desiderata. Were the school dinners organic? Would the parent whose child had a headlouse breeding facility on his head please put him into quarantine? Oh, and could the  child who had permanently borrowed her offspring’s Himalayan yack wool gloves please return them? She would then get stuck into suggesting everything from vegetable plots to edible paint, class visits to the swimming pool and library, and the organisation of week-long school trips to learn how to build teepees and name an insect at fifty paces.

Wondeure Woomane making suggestions at the PTA.

Wondeure Woomane making suggestions at the PTA meeting. Image: Wikipedia commons.

However, the enthusiasm that Wondeure Woomane showed at school meetings mysteriously waned when the teacher came up trumps with activities for our offspring and asked for helping hands a few weeks later. The excuses she came up with were lamer than Napoleon attempting a handstand. I learned to grit my teeth as she whined that she couldn’t make herself available for the very school outings she had demanded, casting a condescending eye over the other mums then simpering « I’m sorry, I can’t come… I work… » as she gazed flirtatiously up at the teacher though lowered eyelashes. This left we lesser maternal mortals the privilege of accompanying a busload of three year-olds to the swimming pool in the depths of winter. The only exception she ever made was for the end of school trip to meet professional fire fighters. I can’t imagine why.

So wish me luck, guys… and if you read something in the paper about a pedant who choked on her pendant, it wasn’t me. Honest.

50 thoughts on “The Fear Factor: Surviving Parent-Teacher Evenings.

  1. Ah yes…..lots of WWs over here for sure. Love your take on the commando parent pairs too! Am very much in favour of doing away with these parent conference nights and just sticking to the phone conferences instead. If something further is needed, then I’m all about scheduling time to go in and talk, but dear God, these conference days have just become yet another stomping ground for suburbian warfare, you know?

    • I wouldn’t mind if there was a system that actually works. I’ve never seen or heard of phone meetings in France – that could be the way forward! I feel sorry for the teachers- some of them had so many classes that they were overwhelmed by the number of parents who wanted to see them.
      I love your parallel with suburban warfare 🙂

  2. This is very funny, in a sad-funny sort of way. On the other hand, I work with a man who drove past his daughter’s school last week and just happened to see the sign that it was Parent-Teacher Conference night. He detoured to the parking lot, and met with several teachers and the principal who all told him what a mature, creative, wonderful creature his daughter was.
    He went home and relayed their comments to his daughter, who had no idea that they thought so highly of her. He came into work the next day and was beaming.
    So hang in there, maybe you will meet with that 1 in a 100 parent of your favorite student. Honest praise can follow them through their lives and you truly will make a difference.
    On the other hand, hide extra liquor in your desk drawer for the rest of the lot.

    • Hi there Kate 🙂 I do enjoy the meetings with the teachers – once I attain the grail of getting through the door, that is. The last time was one week ago for Little My, and each and every teacher rewarded me with laudatory comments that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside before informing me that everything was fine. I went home and told my daughter what had been said, and her grin made it all worth the hassle.

  3. C’est drôle mais tout est vrai. Dans mon cas à moi, il n’y avait pas de liste ,j’ai souvent suggéré l’idée mais on me répondait que ce n’était pas faisable. Je me disais intérieurement que c’étaient de sacrés c..Je me rend compte aujourd’hui que de toute manière cela ne sert à rien. La première fois avec l’ainée j’ai patientée 4 h et je n’ai pu voir que la prof d’art pla et le prof de sciences qui m’a demandé ce que je faisais là puisque mon enfant avait de bonnes notes. Je n’y suis plus jamais retourné sauf une fois au lycée où une prof d’anglais m’a dit qu’elle n’avait jamais vu mon enfant en cours. Ah bon? Et son 17 ou 18 de moyenne, elle l’a obtenu comment? Pour le second nouvelle tentative et même désorganisation. Je crois que ça ne sert à rien ces réunions, qu’il vaut mieux pour nos nerfs et pour savoir qq chose prendre RV auprès des professeurs quand on en a envie ou besoin. Christine

    • Je me demande aussi si c’est la peine d’y aller pour entendre que tout va bien, mais je crois que si – puis n fonction de l’enfant concerné, en ce qui me concerne, je peux avoir des commentaires moins élogieuses selon la matière pour Rugby-boy, qui a parfois tendance à parler en classe (je ne sais vraiment pas de qui il tient, ce petit…) 🙂
      17 de moyenne pour absence, moi, je dis bravo au prof….ou pas….

    • Meeting the teachers is great most of the time (except when you start off asking the man in the room if “Mrs So and so” has gone home, and he replies, no, it’s Mr so-and-so, and it’s me”, which happened to me last Friday. Oh, and you’ll have the ULTIMATE uneasy deal we expats get: talking with the English teacher and having to bite your tongue about the spelling mistakes you find in all her printed sheets.

    • I used to dread them as well. The pain used to last at least a month after my parents had been told how my school year was going. I found the solution was to hide the ‘parents evening’ letter.

      • Pure genius, PN. It doesn’t work for my kids because now parents have on-line tracking of school stuff – including grades. And Rugby-boy has a little sister who gives me all the letters, ‘cos she’s a good girl.

      • ha ha ha, what a snake in the grass. Tell Rugby – Boy to hide her dollies.

        On line tracking! At least we don’t have to worry with that in Italy, here if the school has computers they still have 5″ floppy drives and work in DOS

  4. There are lots of things I miss about having school-age kids at home – those meetings are not one of them. We never had lists, either – just impossibly long lineups to see the Maths teacher. The Phys-Ed teachers, no matter how fit, were always the lonely ones as most parents didn’t seem to care about sports. But that was nothing compared to the horrors that awaited in secondary school, where your only contact was the reports that came through the Conseil de Classe. One year when my son was in Lycée I got coerced into signing up to be ‘Delegué des Parents’ and sitting through parent-teacher meetings. What fun awaits you!

    • The PE, music and art teachers were all very popular this year. The PE teacher is a real sweetie – he taught all three of my monsters.
      This IS the secondary school I’m talking about – I was a “parent d’élève” for many years, and will not get hoodwinked into doing it again for the Secondary school, because 1) it’s one of Wonder Woman’s favourite activities, and 2) I’ve done my bit.

      • yes Mrs Sensible teaches little Italian chilblains not to pick their nose (it drives her mad) and this year she is teaching English. She won’t get you with her wet wooden spoon, she likes your blog, besides she saves the spoon for me. 🙂

  5. We have a different system here. One’s child brings home a piece of paper with a table on it of teachers. You fill it in with times that are convenient to you, once you get it of course. My boys usually present me with the paper the day before the meeting, by which time all the good times have gone, and I’m left with 19h55, 20h30 and just before bedtime. I usually end up seeing one or two teachers at most and assume that if the others need to see me they’ll let me know. Result, I’m out after 30 mins max. I always take my Kindle. 🙂

    I’m not sure I could cope with the wildebeest method.

    Best of British with your upcoming evening!

    • We had that system when we lived in the Alsace, and Bigfoot, like your offspring, generally gave me the paper too late as well. They did however have a stand mend by students that provided coffee and cake, with proceeds going to school. I have tried to encourage the local school to adopt the scheme with a twist on it (think Tom Cruise and cocktails) but there appears to be nothing doing.

  6. I’ve not heard of this system of parents’ evening appointments. It sounds like a lose, lose situation (unless you are WW of course who, I am sure must have some kind of supernatural powers). I think you need to be armed with running shoes and very sharp elbows when you go. Or a pen that cannot be crossed out so that no one can cross you off the lists.

  7. Adopt lion taming tactics…top hat, whip and chair. By the time WW has interpreted that get up for the assembled populace you’ll be through the lists in no time and well equipped to cow the baying hordes as you head for the exit.
    And the accidental meeting of WW with the tail of the lash will delight everyone for years to come.

  8. Haha! Wondeurre Wooomann is also an amazing traveler, because I swear I see her here in Doha at every parent-teacher night as well! I must say, I do appreciate the ability to pre-register for the meet and greet online; we get 20 minutes with the homeroom teacher at a designated time. Unfortunately it’s a free-for-all when it comes to all the extras, so we inevitably find ourselves queuing for hours to meet the art, foreign language and P.E. teacher. Smilin’ Vic takes advantage of that time to gobble as many free scotch cookies and instant coffees as humanly possible. But if they don’t mind the few stray crumbs on his beard, why should I? X

    • 20 minutes with the teacher? Free Cookies? Coffee? Pfffft. It’s a far cry from the French equivalent of Boot Camp. I bet you get a pretty evolved, expat version of Wondeure Woomane, though. Scary stuff.

  9. Thank God that ‘s not me….it fact it never was, as I was a father of school aged children before Newman had been born and so I never attended any of those events as I was SO busy at the studio that night….shameful, but there it is. My daughter, however, married to a Frenchman and living nearby regales me with similar tales ….it sounds awful and I have to say that Wondeure Womane seems to have the way of it:)

    • Aha! I was wondering when a daddy would rear his head in the comments section. Hi there FPF! It’s funny, PF never finds time to get home in time for those evenings, either. But he always finds time for a romantic outing to Castorama. Strange.

  10. I laughed until I cried over the parent-teacher evening part. Ours were pretty annoying affairs too, but much better organized, or at least with good intentions of being so. We filled out a form with what time we could show up at the event, and which teachers we wanted to see. Then some human or computer spit out appointment times. The only problem was a typical schedule could look like this:

    Teacher 1: 18h00
    Teacher 2: 18h05
    Teacher 3: 18h10
    Teacher 4: 19h00
    Teacher 5: 20h10

    Of course it is humanly impossible to keep a five-minute time schedule, so teachers did run late, and if I had back-to-back meetings I always was late for all but the first, meaning someone else, someone probably trying to get out of a 20h10 time slot as I would do later, would slip in.

    In reality, the appointment times pretty much went by the wayside by 18h15 or so, and it became a sort of free-for-all with a lot of running back and forth between rooms.

    I never really ran into any WW though. French parents where I live seemed very low-key about “getting involved,” although that may be changing.

    • Parents seem very involved for knowing what is going on for their child’s results, but very few show any interest in the rest – they’re probably scared of getting involved in a Wonder Woman-dominated PTA. 🙂

      • The later equivalent is in collège and lycée is asking for 200-page “cahiers” when by the end of the year they only have 40 pages of notes, or making them buy language workbooks where only the first chapter is assigned.

      • I confirm. Bigfoot’s room was full of stuff he hadn’t needed, and the best corker I’ve had yet was a text book the kids were instructed to “cover and leave at home, because you won’t be needing it. We just need some space at school for the new books”. Yahwatt?

  11. Ze French Systemme sounds suspiciously similar to the Italian method of torturing parents on parents evening, but here we have the added delight that it is actually in the afternoon, right after school finishes, so nobody has time for lunch and therefore everyone is in an incredibly foul mood. Oh, and you can only book an appointment with your kid’s actual class teacher; you have to accost the others spontaneously as they roam the corridors, trying to eat cake and biscuits surreptitiously out of their handbags to stave off diabetic comas.
    Oh and being Italians, the first parents on the list get half an hour each, but then by the time you get about half way down, the teacher suddenly invites the rest of the parents in all at once and says “Tutto bene” (It’s all OK) and runs away. For her pasta.

    • Right after school sounds brilliant – I could get home in time for tea rather than get updates about my offspring demolishing my kitchen as they attempt to make dinner 🙂
      We had the same scenario here with the short meetings- one mum reported an attempt to throw her out of the room mid-sentence after two minutes with the teacher, who had to “catch up on time”.

  12. Ha ha, we had one of these last week. Ours starts off with allotted times but these are totally ignored and you just plonk yourself down at the nearest available teacher. I always feel sorry for the young, attractive male teachers who have to put up with middle-aged mothers pathetically attempting to flirt with them. And, yep, I’m one of the worst…

    • I made the mistake of taking the sports teacher for a student last year. He must have been a couple of years older than Bigfoot. That’s when I decided it was time for me to see the light. I am not cougar material.

  13. Ah, the joy of the Parent-teachers meeting…I can relate with your experience, it is more or less the same in London, right. that said, what I don’t miss about France is the negativity of the teachers. In the UK, everything is fine. Always. It makes me so happy!

    • I haven’t had too much negativity from teachers unless my kids’ results weren’t up to the standard they should be. Or if Rugby boy had been arising around in class as he did until he realized that he needed good grades to get anywhere.
      Next week may be different as I will be asking a teacher to revise her position on kids who point out, as politely as they can, her errors in class.

  14. This seems a very inefficient way of organising parent meetings. The ones I have attended as teacher and parent involved the school sending out empty time slot sheets to be filled in with three preferences which were then collated by the teacher/school. Parents were informed. Voila. Trick is to get those sheets back the next day. In my children’s high school, the teachers were distributed on desks around the gym. Not too hassling.

    • In my children’s previous school they used the same system, but many parents didn’t get the paper from their children, or didn’t fill it in, and turned up to freewheel their way around. I was practically ready to pull on my boxing gloves with ne mother, who told me that she “wouldn’t be a minute”. Yeah, sure.

  15. In the dim and distant days when our two were in school, the schools had all the teachers at desks round the hall and we just queued. No lists, no papers in advance, but somehow it worked. It helped that the schools were small, with even the high school having only 400 or so pupils. With or without WW, I don’t envy you, MM.

  16. I réally wish I had read this 2 weeks ago before going to my first parent teacher evening for my eldest! I asked to see five teachers. Got my rendezvous between 17h and 17h30 so thought I’d be able to collect the younger ones by 18h. How wrong was I. Saw 3 teachers, and collected the boys at 18h50 …. Might not go next year as I found those I did see very negative.
    Did see WW though!!😒

    • Hello, and welcome to MM’s pad 🙂
      Oh, dear, poor you. You were in at the deep end straight away. Do you live in France? I’d say that if you saw three of the five within two hours you’re a winner – you just need to suss out your techniques for dealing with WW and you’ll be up and running in time for number three child’s appointments. Hang on in there!

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