How to Survive Parent Teacher Meetings
As well as other managerial lessons.
I recently attended a Parent: Teachers meeting. If ever an event was poorly named, this is it. It’s not really a meeting at all, more an assault on your self-worth.
During this bi-annual humiliation, the first thing to be worked out is the schedule. Which teachers do you need to see and in which room are they holding court? In order to do this you have to know (a) what subjects your kid is doing (b) the specific teachers names (c) have an inbuilt GPS which directs you around school corridors painted in identical colours, filled with dishevelled parents who are similarly lost. But, hey, you’re smart and will eventually figure it out.
Then you sit ‘on the queue’ and invariably strike up a conversation with the mother/father/guardian beside you. In Clontarf, a suburb of Dublin, these people can be described, as the ‘Educational Taliban’ such is their fundamentalist belief that securing 625 points in the Leaving Certificate (last year exams in Irish Secondary schools) is the gateway to all future happiness. Interestingly, it also doubles as a personal ‘score’ of their parental ability. They tell me stuff like: “Oh, it’s such a dilemma. Clive/Rosheen (delete as appropriate) does not know whether to do Nuclear Physics in Oxford or go straight into medical research in the Mayo Clinic”. I feel like saying: “I had a similar dilemma myself recently. I wasn’t sure whether to bring my kid to Beaumont A&E (ER) to get his stomach pumped after another wild 18th birthday party or take him straight to Lomans’ Mental Hospital for a full Psychiatric assessment. It’s so hard to make those calls, isn’t it?” But politeness stops me from saying anything of the sort. I fake active listening while figuring out how to murder my child without being apprehended by the police or, at the very least, getting the charge downgraded to manslaughter.
Then you meet couples that both want to talk to every teacher. No ‘divide and conquer’ to lessen the time involved. Oh no. They have zero problem taking a day off work to figure out the minutiae of how their child prodigy performed in the History of Art mock exams and an almost hysterical need to visually inspect every artefact he ever created (“If he concentrated on the grass as well as the Serengeti animals, would that attention to detail be worth additional marks in the Art practical module, section B, sub-section 2.7?”). They don’t give a huge amount of thought to the 38 people waiting patiently behind them as each ‘visit’ with a teacher takes up about a weekend of dialogue. Perhaps it just seems that long when you can predict the ‘script’ for your own kid. Eventually, the top of the queue appears and it’s my turn for ‘feedback’. Jesus, my heart sinks as the parental version of B.O.H.I.C.A. beckons (Bend Over, Here It Comes Again).
Next year I’m going to re-engineer the process. I’m getting a professionally edited DVD with pre-recorded messages: “Smart but lazy”; “Great personality, but doesn’t do a tap”; “Massively underperforming versus his/her potential”. It will feature an über modern background rap sung by the X Factor finalists. Then, when I get to the top of each queue, I’m going to give the teachers the following instruction: “Don’t say a word. Just watch” and hit the return key. A brief nod of acknowledgement as the music fades and I silently walk away. Yes! It should work really well for all concerned. Roll on 2014.
So, why are my kid’s gobshites? Well, personally, I blame their mother (coincidentally, Linda doesn’t read this blog!). And, why have they copied my terrible example in massively underperforming at secondary school? Why can’t they just be…. well brilliant like all those other perfect kids I keep hearing about? Perhaps my laissez-faire stance could be described as the ‘Emily Dickinson’ school of parenting:
‘The props assist the house, until the house is built. And then the props withdraw. And adequate, erect. The house supports itself. And ceases to recollect. The auger and the carpenter’.
Oh the joys of parenting teenagers. Perhaps in western civilization there may be a ‘missing ritual’. Couldn’t I just send them down the country somewhere to kill a Friesian cow or do a bungee jump off the cliffs in Howth? Then they would come back ‘all grown up’ overnight.
Is there a message in all of this angst? Yes, there is. Trying to control every single element of your life sets you up for a lot of disappointment. John C. Maxwell, an expert on leadership, said: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. I hope that my kids (and your staff) know how much we actually care about them. Even when everything is not going ‘swimmingly’, it’s our job to be there and support. Sometimes, that’s all that’s needed. In the meantime, I’m clinging to the Jewish philosophy – “this too will pass”. And I’m praying that this tunnel will have a light at the end (and it’s not actually a cave).
See you in the pub!
By Paul Mooney (PHD)
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