Parents evening, the name (or whatever it is called locally) still strikes a fear in my heart. It’s not that I doubt my children’s behaviour or ability – I know they are more than a school grade. It’s memories of confusion, misunderstanding, frustration and sadness – and I’m the parent.
As the first teacher arrives he tells my son to sit in his chair and he joins me, the other side of the table and he tells him to begin. My son is confused but also amused and so asks the teacher how he thinks he has done. They swap back around and I hear reports of the ways my son helps hand out books in class, he gets distracted at times, generally works hard and is a good student. Presentation is an issue, I explain it always has been and the teacher says he used to have the same problem and it’s okay, he’ll get there. I ask my son if he has got anything to ask or say to the teacher? “Thank you.” My tears well up and the teacher is taken aback, humbled, amazed and appreciative – in all his years….
With that word – presentation, my son and I were both taken back to his overseas school where ‘parents evening’ was held with students and parents all together in a class. The only foreigners the first barrier was that usual one of what happens here? Trying to understand the fast speaking teacher whilst rushing through your head the search for the norms and expectations of this setting. The teacher began picking out the best students and praising them, how wonderful they are, how beautiful their hair, how well they are doing (often they were paid to like this child). They would then go around the class and pick out the faults of the others, not good at this, bad at that, not trying, no hope, waste of time. The aim was humiliation – it worked. As the only foreign child in the class he got no favours, he is disorganised, untidy, his writing is atrocious. There was no use trying to explain dyspraxia and it’s effects (I did once try) or explaining he was really left handed but not allowed to use that here (yep, tried that one too). There was no mention of his friendships, the things he was good at or his kindness such as the time he took some paper and sticky tape from home and covered the broken window that had been blowing freezing winds and rain into the unheated classroom. When he left the school after four years all his teacher could say was the general greeting of ‘safe roads’.
That was why his reaction was ‘thank you’, someone who had seen his messiness and untidiness but saw more and focused on that. A teacher who first talked of his character and then discussed his academic life. Every time we sit down I feel the need to explain to the teacher first that he isn’t really English, he hasn’t been through the system and has only been here for two years. My son rolls his eyes at me but they see the funny blonde haired, blue eyed, gangly teen and don’t realise that he’s never learnt those grammatic rules or writing style – but he could do it in another language! When they do they understand him a bit more and can take the time to explain, maybe it’s just the mum in me jumping to his defence. But I see the miracle of his determination in sticking at school to become a student who is achieving and enjoying the experience which demonstrates the resilience of so many TCK’s. Laughing about their history, which to others is a horror story but to them is part of who they are, and also the challenge of what sets them apart. With his ‘thank you’ I again realise the richness of how he values and sees beauty in simple things that others would take for granted. How easy it is to focus on the wrong things, to find criticism first or not see the full picture and yet how powerful when we touch a heart by seeing the fulness of who they are.
As a mum, I’m not sure I’ll ever get over the dread of parent’s evening,. But just as I did as we walked down the dust road, we walk across the concrete play area and I tell my child how proud I am of them. Each time I say it I see the fullness of their journey and it means just that bit more. How grateful I am for a God who sits by me and listens as others declare things about me, who stands for me, who sees my mistakes and failures but also sings over me with delight.
(just to add we did also have an amazing teacher at the same school for my other son and both of them learnt well at the school – in the fullest sense).