I STARTED working in schools in 1996, when parents respected teachers and left us alone to do our jobs. Not any more.
Nowadays parents think nothing of barging into schools to read teachers the riot act if their precious child has been told off, or they’ll send angry emails in the middle of the night. Warning — it doesn’t make you popular.
I’ve worked in all manner of schools across the south west of England, from state schools to private, and I can tell you that right now many teachers are dreading the start of the new school year.
They’re braced for tears and tantrums, not just from their pupils but from their parents too.
Believe me, if you are an annoying parent it will spread round the staff room like wildfire.
So whether it’s your kid’s first day at a new school, or they’re moving up a year, these are the things you do that drive teachers crazy . . .
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YOU MOAN ABOUT YOUR SUMMER
PARENTS often turn up at the school gates complaining how frazzled they are, moaning that teachers must have had a nice long holiday while their six weeks stuck with the kids was the worst.
Nothing could be further from the truth. For the first two weeks I’ll almost certainly have been struck down by a lurgy which always seems to strike on the first day of the holiday.
The next two weeks might have been an actual holiday, just like the average Brit takes in the summer, followed by two weeks of frantic lesson planning and admin.
Also, consider that I’ve probably been working over 50 hours per week during term time. Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t clock off at 3pm.
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Instead, we’re roped into all manner of after-school activities and meetings before going home to do marking and more lesson planning. Please don’t turn up and make sarcastic remarks about our “six weeks off”.
We won’t be happy.
YOU WANT TO BE OUR FRIEND
I’M there to teach your child, not make friends with you. There needs to be clear boundaries and befriending me in the hope that I will favour your child will never work.
If your finger is hovering over the friend request button on social media, remove it immediately.
I’ll even hide from you if I see you out and about outside school hours.
I will confess that I do have favourites but it’s nothing to do with you and everything to do with how your children are in lessons.
And yes, teachers compare notes.
YOU GET THEM TO BRAG IN SHOW AND TELL
SEPTEMBER term is the worst for parents who boast.
I’m often bombarded by parents who were fortunate enough to spend two weeks in Disneyland and what they got up to.
Some request that I plan a lesson around their latest destination and their kid turns up on the first day with a stuffed Mickey Mouse for show and tell . . . shudder.
On the flip side, please DO tell me if something traumatic has happened, like a divorce or a death in the family.
We need to know so we can help to support the child.
If it’s something minor, like a dead goldfish, don’t bother . . . my memory for that sort of trivia is, um, about as good as a goldfish.
YOU THINK YOU RUN THE SCHOOL
I’M not saying that PTAs aren’t useful, they can be a great way for parents to communicate with the school and the fundraisers can be great (yes please to cake sales).
But despite being helpful, please remember you’re not actually running the school.
I’ve worked in schools where even the head is terrified of some of the mothers who muster the troops to complain about some minor issue, like the slide being dirty in the playground or the school trip being too expensive.
Note: We know you still manage to afford that nightly bottle of wine.
I’ll warn you, we have a list of the most “hands-on” mothers and it’s not a complimentary one.
We will warn each other on email if we see you striding into school and you may suddenly find there’s a “staff meeting” on and nobody is around.
YOU TELL US YOUR KID IS SMART
THERE are parents that seem to think their child is Einstein reincarnated and are keen to let me know at the first opportunity that their child will need extra work.
They usually don’t and even if they are uber bright, it’s good to let them just be sometimes.
And let’s be honest, setting them extra work means extra work for me, which I really don’t need.
Plus the kids who are constantly told they’re geniuses are far too keen to shout out answers and be disruptive — not much fun to have in the classroom.
The genuinely bright pupils tend to be curious and will do their own extra reading around a subject they really enjoy, without needing to be reminded.
Their parents probably don’t even realise how intelligent those kids actually are. They’re a joy to teach.
YOU EXPECT US TO KNOW YOUR NAME
SOME of my happiest times in my teaching years have been gossiping in the staff room.
If you’ve been in a class of 30 pupils for hours on end, you need to let off steam so we gossip and we bitch.
We don’t always remember your proper names though, we have a number of nicknames for parents.
Some of my favourites are “pyjama mum”, “dragged through a hedge backwards mum” and, I’m afraid to say, “drunk mum”.
YOU FORGOT TO BRING THE END OF TERM GIFT
TEACHERS say things like “presents don’t matter” or “I love handmade cards”.
While that can be true, one mum gave me a bottle of expensive bath oil for my end of year present and I looked at her with new eyes at the beginning of the autumn term.
If you ended the previous year on a generous present-giving note, you’re likely to get a warmer reception at the start of the new school year.
If you forgot and turned up empty handed on the first day back at school, your cards are marked.
YOU DIDN’T MAKE YOUR KID DO HOLIDAY WORK
MORE and more parents are making the decision that their child MUST have complete relaxation during the holidays.
This includes ignoring holiday work your child has been set, or even actively discouraging them from doing it. Not helpful.
It’s good if you keep your child’s brain ticking over a bit and I’ll have planned my lessons around pupils having done the basics, like reading the book I’ve set.
One parent even wrote me a filthy email — out of hours, of course — when I suggested in class that their child hadn’t read the book that was crucial to their syllabus, claiming I’d undermined her daughter’s confidence.
Give me strength.
AND . . . BOSSINESS GETS YOU NOWHERE
AT parent teacher meetings, you should know we have secret distress signals if you’re being a nightmare.
It’s nothing as obvious as a flare gun but if you’re being particularly strident and bossy, like one mum who shouted at me when I refused to re-mark her daughter’s exam paper, and I start playing with my hair in a certain way, that’s the cue for the deputy headmaster to come and rescue me.
At one school we used to move our name badge from one side to another if we needed help.
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And on another note, my best teacher friend and I used to do a secret thumbs-up sign if we were facing a hot dad . . . sorry mums.
- ADDITIONAL REPORTING: CLAIRE DUNWELL, MEL FALLOWFIELD