I often wished my school wouldn’t bother with parental engagement. Parents’ evenings were hit and miss. It didn’t matter much to my mam whether I was word perfect in my French oral or how many times I’d been asked to leave double ICT on a Wednesday afternoon. She was too busy wondering whether the caretaker used Domestos or Cif in the loos, and buttering up a friend’s parent for a fast-track filling (he was, at least, a dentist).
Taking my dad along instead was little better. His long curly hair and penchant for cycling bandanas made us the stars of the show. While teachers referred to other parents as ‘Jo’s dad’ and ‘Stevie’s mother’, I was known as ‘the hippie’s daughter’ and other mums commented on how 'brave' my dad was to come to parents' evening dressed the way he did. He found the remarks rather bemusing. His conversations with my art teacher centered on the merits of Lynyrd Skynyrd guitar solos, and he berated the head of sport for blasting out Bruce Springsteen during circuit training – “play them some Simple Minds,* for God’s sake!”
I’m still cringing at my desk recounting these gems of my childhood, and I shudder to imagine the gossip it inspired in the staff room. But it's true that teachers can sometimes find working with parents pretty trying. Research points to the importance of getting it right, and this can be tricky.
Inspired by a flurry of queries on the topic (if you’re a member you can take a glance at these here) and in homage to the government’s recently updated guidance on complaints procedures in schools, I’ve asked the ex-teachers among my colleagues at The Key to tell me about the weirdest, funniest and most memorable interactions they’ve had with parents.
Fergal Roche, our CEO and a former headteacher, recounted the time he broke up a fight between two dads at home time.
Their children had been fighting at a fourth birthday party and tensions were rife between the parents. Neither welcomed my intrusion -but I did emerge unscathed.
Adam Medlycott, our curriculum and learning specialist, blushed to recount his experience when teaching at a primary school.
One of my most embarrassing interactions with a parent was one morning when I went out to collect my class from the playground at the beginning of the school day. One of the mums kindly came over and whispered in my ear that the zip on my trousers was down - or as she coyly put it, “You are flying low today, Mr Medlycott”. The zip had broken and I hadn’t noticed the draught. Rather red-faced, I hurried my class into school while trying to wear my jumper like a dress.
Matt Evered, a former modern languages teacher, reflected on the more bewildering complaints he received from parents:
A mum accused me of saying that her daughter was destined to become a drug addict. It transpired that my motivational speech about ‘hard work can take you anywhere’ had been completely misinterpreted. I think the point that I was trying to make - that you need to make an effort to get anywhere in school and life - hit home a bit too hard with this rather lazy girl.
Another parent complained that I had been speaking to his son in French … he sort of missed the point of French lessons. And then there was the mum that asked me if I would teach English to their German lodger. I actually said ‘yes’ to that!
And then there is this rather excellent story from Will Millard, a former English teacher and head of sixth form.
I rang the home of a year 7 pupil to speak to his parents about his poor behaviour. The pupil answered, and I asked him if I could speak to his mum or dad.
I heard him put the handset down, shout ‘Mum!’, and then the sound of feet shuffling towards the phone.
The receiver clattered, and a high-pitched voice said “Yes?”.
I introduced myself, and commenced listing the boy's misdemeanours.
I asked the mother what she thought, and there was a long pause. Eventually, the high voice said “Oh dear. He’s very naughty”. The voice cracked, and the truth about my interlocutor was revealed: it was the boy himself, not his mother at all!
I started laughing uncontrollably, and said I’d ring back.
I feel better about my embarrassing parents already.
*Moon River is more the right tempo for my dad's circuit training these days, he reckons.
If you're hoping to build more meaningful and supportive relationships with parents in your school, why not come along to The Key's event on engaging parents on Thursday 11 February, in London? Find out more here.