Nov 18, 2013

    Parent-teacher meetings: Count me in

    I REMEMBER parent-teacher meetings from my school days.

    I would sit squirming with embarrassment next to my mother as my teacher listed my misdeeds for the year.

    In a convent school for demure girls, I stuck out like a sore thumb. Too talkative, too stubborn, too bold, careless, forgetful, doesn't play well with others - the litany of my sins went.

    I remember my poor mum listening, nodding occasionally, as the teacher complained about me. It was always Mum, because Dad - like all dads in those days - had to work and could not take leave to attend.

    As she listened, at particularly shocking revelations about my conduct, Mum would shoot me disapproving looks, telegraphing with her eyes that "you're going to get it from me when we get home".

    Sometimes, I was made to wait outside while my parent and teacher conferred. But the results were often the same: Mum would emerge from the classroom shaking her head and I would be scolded all the way home.

    Looking back, I think the teachers in my traditional Chinese school did not mince their words: if your child did something wrong, it reflected badly upon you, the parent.

    It didn't matter that Mum is a kind, gentle and elegant woman - the fact that I was such a problem kid meant, in most teachers' eyes, that she had failed somehow to bring me up properly.

    Times have changed.

    Having just concluded the year-end round of parent-teacher meetings for my two sons, I am reminded of how the roles have changed.

    Now, I am the mother who sits nodding as the teachers talk about issues and challenges that my children, one in Primary 1 and the other in Nursery 2, face.

    My interactions with my kids' teachers are warm and encouraging.

    When telling me about my elder son's progress or behaviour, his teachers are diplomatic. They come across as genuinely concerned and wanting to help him. They emphasise his strengths, sandwiching criticism between praise. They ask questions about his home life, hoping to find clues as to what makes him tick.

    I am so grateful for these dedicated teachers. One of them even asked the Supportive Spouse to call him about our son whenever necessary, and that he wants to find ways to reach out to and understand the boy better in the next academic year.

    Instead of feeling like a passive listener (or, worse, a striking board for the educators' frustrations), I felt like we are all partners in finding solutions to anything that might be hampering the children's development.

    Unlike Mum's solo appearances, my husband and I attend the meetings as a parental unit. The boys and I are very lucky that Dad works from home and actively nurtures them.

    He is the one who drops them off at school and picks them up, and keeps up the day-to-day dialogue with their teachers. Meeting the teachers together, we are able to take follow-up action or reinforce what is taught in school at home effectively.

    If you are going for a parent-teacher meeting this week, or gearing up for next year's, Irish education resource website has tips and a meeting planner to print out to jot down what you want to review with your child's teacher that I find useful (

    The trick, I find, is to go with an open mind, resist the urge to blame the child for negative feedback, and focus on realistic steps instead of worrying.

    It struck me recently how much my mother cared for me and my education, that she attended parent-teacher meetings without fail, even though they must have been stressful for her.

    A poll of friends my age revealed that their parents had mostly begged off going, citing a lack of time.

    Like Mum, I, too, wouldn't miss this annual rite for the world. The more things change, the more things stay the same.