I met up with my long time colleague – and witness at each of my weddings, which is going to fool some family researcher next century – Graham Rich, the other night. We worked together from 1974 through to about 1990 or so as the teachers on an Art/English course, during which all our students took both Art A level and English A level – quite an eye-opener for me, because I taught a series of Art students when I was in FE, even though I had no talent for visual art whatsoever. My eyes were constantly being opened.
One great advantage of this was that, when there were parents evenings, we were never alone. (Should there be an apostrophe there after the ‘s’ in ‘parents’? – it’s the curse of having been an English teacher that these things bother one so badly.) Parents evenings therefore became less combative – always a possibility – because the poor individuals on the other side of the table had two voices with which to contend.
Another thing about parents evenings which played accidentally into our hands was that, when they arrived, any parent took one look and assumed that Graham (suited and tidy, ordered and bespectacled) was the English teacher, and that I (jeans and long hair, in a dodgy pony-tail, and ear-rings) was the Art teacher. Having started off by mixing us up, they never quite regained their composure. This wasn’t a tactical thing – just something that happened. (In fact, my generally slovenly appearance often accidentally worked in my favour during the first dozen years of teaching, because it looked to most authorities as if I was going to be spectacularly inarticulate, and the fact that I could speak in decent sentences often gave me a head-start in any potential confrontations. I remember the look on a new Principal’s face when he summoned in his ‘Press Officer’, as I was, in the summer holidays, only to be confronted by a leftover from the prog-rock days of the seventies. However, two days later, I had his face in the paper under the unoriginal, often-used-in-Devon, but still flattering headline BEST IN THE WEST. There were no real problems with how I looked after that.)
The anxiety levels before meeting the parents were rarely justified. Graham reminded me that there was a parent who occupied a fairly high position in the pantheon of Devon business worthies, and whose imminent arrival I dreaded. I dreaded it because I was going to have to tell him that his charming daughter was actually just a bit feckless, always late, and never handed anything in. The gentleman arrived, and took his seat. He eyed us suspiciously. Eventually, I took the plunge. I explained that Lottie’s prospects of actually gaining an A level were receding fairly fast, because she never did any work, and her time-keeping and attitude were working against her. He looked me right in the eye.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘she’s just like me.’ And he roared with laughter.