I vividly remember one parent teacher evening watching the startled expression of the young form mistress as a Dad arrived. Resplendent in micro cycling shorts, he sat himself down in one of the kids mini-chairs, pulled his knees up to his chin, and gave her a frankly biologically detailed view of the physiology of his knackers. How she managed to remain focused on phonics amazes me, but the lady deserved a medal. Navigating parent/teacher evenings, and that communication with your children’s teachers, is one of the many new relationships that parenthood springs upon you.
If you are not part of the teaching profession then, like me, the last time you interacted with this crowd was probably when you were wearing big gym knickers and knee high socks.
I find myself sort of regressing in the face of these memories. Despite the fact that you revisit this relationship a fully-formed adult, with a lifetimes of experiences and knowledge, the undeniable thought persists. That teachers are not human. When I bumped into some my children’s teachers in the pub I was a painful mix of mortified and weirdly over-excited. When I saw the deputy head in the supermarket I adopted a sort of Cold War spy-style crouching manoeuvre behind some lemons and then, when spotted, became incoherently implausible as to why I was head-butting lemons.
When a new head introduced the practice of addressing teachers by their first names the playground rang loud with grown-up sniggers as we battled to call Mr Anderson- Mark with a straight face.
I can only imagine the staffroom conversations centring around why ‘so many middle-aged women were behaving like giggling teenage morons.’
Equally at the other end of the scale I found myself adopting Victorian-era patois when attempting to discuss a new boyfriend with one female teacher, who was at most seven years younger than me.
“How lovely. And you long have you been courting this young man” I found myself asking, in my best impression of a Bronte sister on an uptight day.
There is also the obstacle course that is teacher gift giving. Our current primary school parent teacher association asks for one annual donation from parents. This covers all teacher gifts, a total bargain at £25/year. It completely removes the strain of trying to be thoughtful, creative and impressive with £10. The alternative, which is what we did at their first primary school, is to go it alone or club together with other parents.
General good bets are John Lewis vouchers, a book, bottle of wine or flowers. Not wildly original but generally acceptable.
Be careful if you go off-piste. I remember the snort of derision from one (very wise) mum when she overheard a group of us discussing the etiquette of buying one young teacher a T-shirt and socks for Christmas. “Socks are practically pants. It’s just not acceptable,” she said emphatically.
If you think all this fuss is absurd be grateful that you are not in the the private sector. One local private primary school’s head had to step in, as once again competitive parents, raised the bar on teacher gift giving just a notch too high. In particular she referenced the gifting of a Chanel 2.55 handbag, RRP £2,500, that was closely followed by another family offering a teacher return tickets and a two week stay in the family villa in the Caribbean.
It is important to to form a decent relationship with these people that have such an important, influential and hopefully positive impact on your young children’s lives. But no good teacher can be bought. They just want them in school on time, potty trained with an aptitude to learn. Chanel- always a bonus. Perhaps a nail varnish next time.