An odd thing happened this week to my year 10s. At first it was just a subtle change in their behaviour; they were friendlier somehow, more dedicated to completing tasks, more engaged and keen to share their answers.
Could it be, after all my blood, sweat and anguish, after the tears and the late nights, tossing and turning and wondering how to help them identify and articulate congruence in triangles, that they had finally seen the light?
Was the topic sinking in at long last? Had the new AfL technique I trialled last week stirred them to such great heights of motivation and determination that they were now ready to push themselves to the ends of the earth and back again in order to achieve true greatness?
For a moment all I could see were blue skies ahead. Then I looked at the calendar and realised I was wrong – it was the run up to parents’ evening.
Parents’ evening is a rite of passage for any NQT, although I confess this was not my first one, having studied for my PGCE through a school-based route. While by no means an old hand, I can certainly navigate myself through the proceedings.
The change in pupil behaviour I saw is a classic case of “pre-parents’ evening priming”. The pupils are on red-alert, working as a team to butter you up in the hope that you will forget that chatty lesson where they only completed one question, or that time they spent the first five minutes of your lesson in some kind of parallel universe where it was okay to call out the answer to every question before any other pupil could raise their hand.
I mean, if they are nice enough to you in the week before parents’ evening, you might even forget the fact that their last three homeworks have been below average and at least a day late each time; there is never any trouble getting homework handed in the lesson before parents’ evening.
The good thing about their being preoccupied is that they are completely oblivious to the fact that, as an NQT, I am twitching in my boots at the prospect of being “found out”. What if the parents question my experience? What if they notice my age? What if they ask me how long I’ve been teaching?
Fortunately, I was given some tips prior to my venture into the lion’s den, my favourite being so simple and requiring minimal effort – before saying anything about the pupil yourself, ask the child how they think they are doing.
Any issues and the pupil should, having been put under the spotlight, confess to all without you having to lift a finger. The beauty of this technique is that you have avoided having to say anything negative yourself and so the pupil is less likely to resent you the next day.
Reassuringly, I have found most parents to be friendly, supportive and ultimately just very interested in their child’s progress. Parents’ evening is an opportunity to share some ideas and get parents’ “on side” with any interventions or booster classes you are offering.
In case you were wondering, the lessons since parents’ evening, while lacking the ethereal glow of those few precious lessons leading up to it, have actually gone pretty well – pupils appreciate it when you get a chance to say good things to their parents.
Our NQT diarist this year writes anonymously and is a teacher of maths from a south London secondary school.