Saturday, 4 February 2012

Parents, Poetry and Snow

Yesterday, I was forced to call a parent. Now, I don't enjoy calling parents, mostly because you never know what kind of reception you're likely to receive. I mean, if you call a Customer Service centre, for example, at least you know you're unlikely to be sworn at, or if you call a friend, you are sure to receive a warm welcome...well, that's the idea anyway.

But parents of the children you teach? You have to gird your loins (or grid your lions as I first typed) and remember you have the right to say, 'I am going to hang up if you continue to be rude/ aggressive/ mad as a box of frogs,' should the conversation take a turn for the worse.

Phone calls to parents generally fall into one of the following categories:

1) You are calling to discuss their child's poor behaviour and ask them, as a parent, what they intend to do about it. This will be met with one of several responses. Parent will be either shocked or appalled or embarrassed or defensive. They will promise you it will never happen again (unlikely), that they will discuss the offence with their child as soon as they return home, they will deny their child has ever been naughty in their ENTIRE life but in case they do it again they want me to phone them IMMEDIATELY and tell them, or they will say it's nothing to do with me and to eff off and mind my own bl**din' business.

2) You are calling to congratulate a parent on their child's outstanding effort/ quality of work/ community spirit/ random act of kindness. Parents are generally surprised by this kind of phone call, especially the ones to whom you've spoken before vis a vis their child being the horned Gremlin from the Devil's soup bowl. Often the response is one of initial disbelief, followed by suspicion, then pleasant surprise and then grateful thanks. Actually, it's fun making this kind of phone call. It nearly always causing the parent to feel wrong-footed.

3) You are calling with a progress report and you catch a parent at 'an awkward moment'. Examples have included : changing their baby's nappy, going through a supermarket checkout, watching Jeremy Kyle, watching a tyre being changed at a very loud garage, and relaxing on a beach in Corfu (this was at the beginning of September - parents had decided to keep their Year 11 child off school for another month so they could have a cheap holiday. Never mind the fact it was his GCSE year and he needed all the teaching he could get to scrape a 'C' grade).

4) You are calling about any one of the above matters and no matter how many times you call on whichever of the sixteen numbers on the computer system you have recorded for that child, the parents NEVER respond. Generally, these are the parents of the worst child in your class, so I suppose I can understand why they never answer their phones. Probably too busy changing the locks before their treasure arrives home.

Or, as yesterday, you can call the parent of a sixth former to explain why you are very reluctant to enter their child for the A level exam - because they are lazy and lacking in the useful brain cell department - and something bizarre happens by a process of subliminal osmosis.

'I think,' I said to our Head of Sixth Form as I reported back re: the phone call, 'that I have just agreed to help Dan's father arrange a poetry slam at a pub.'
'What?' she said, but already she was laughing.
'I phoned to say I wasn't going to enter Dan for the exam,' I said, 'and I explained why and his father went into a massive sob story about how Dan is being a difficult, shouty and emotional 17 year old, and that he was really a very talented artist and did I like art, and did I like poetry and he was hoping to arrange a poetry slam at The Bull at East Farleigh, and I could help him, couldn't I, if I was interested because I'd know all about poets and writers, being a Literature teacher and he'd write to me with all the details and we'll take it from there, shall we?'

By this time, Head of Sixth was in fits. 'I did warn you he was a charming Canadian artist,' she said.
'Yes you did,' I said, 'but when you said 'artist', I thought you meant painter artist, not con artist.'
'Well, good luck,' she said, 'and if it happens, I'll come along and support you.'
'Too right you will,' I said. 'And buy me a stiff orange juice and endless bags of cheese and onion crisps.'

Of course, I am hoping that Dan's art-crazed father will do as all the other parents generally do which is express a flurry on enthusiasm then forget all about his wild and crazy plan. Part of his reason for the whole poetry slam (what IS a poetry slam, anyway??) is that he wants to bring together different generations because, 'teenagers only get to socialise with their grandparents at funerals.'

I can only say that they must have a peculiar way of arranging cross-generational gatherings in Canada, because I saw my grand-daughter this very morning and there ne'er was a coffin in sight.

Anyway, it's the weekend and I shouldn't be talking shop. It's very cold here. We are promised a heavy dollop of snow tonight. I sent Mrs P and Mrs S to do a panic buy at Sainsbugs and they came back with cream crackers, a jar of pesto, a can of furniture polish and some of those sandsheets one uses for lining a budgie cage with if one has a budgie.

'You are useless,' I say. 'When snow is forecast you need milk, cheese, baking potatoes, baked beans, strong white flour for the baking of the bread, and toilet rolls. Got it?'

'Not cream crackers?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Definitely not cream crackers,' I say. 'Ridiculous bird.'

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