Parents’ Evening with Mr.Yong

Okay, here we go …. You know the thing I hate the most as a parent at my own childrens’ parents’ evenings?

When you are greeted, sit down and the teacher then runs his/her fingers down the list of class names until they find ours … or someone who looks a bit like ours and is at about the same level, They then proceed to read me out a list of meaningless marks, grades, assessments, smart targets and other such spurious data, all of which serve to confirm the fact that a bit more time getting to ‘know’ the students (by teaching them not assessing them ad infinitum) would be well spent. Also, and this really pisses me off, when you have been met, greeted and sat down and the teacher looks across at our dear little one and coos “Well, how do You think you are getting on…..” Both are scenarios which say to me as parent: You (the teacher) are not prepared for this interview or you don’t know my child  sufficiently well enough to tell me in a nutshell about his progress or lack of. And why is this such a bitter pill to swallow Dear Reader? Because I’ve been there myself. In my final miserable months before Parkinson’s bloody ‘Shaking Palsy’ forced me out of the classroom and into oblivion; treading water for dear life, I confess to being guilty of same. Pot calling the kettle black. However, in happier times …

… Parents’ evenings could be a pain after a long day in the classroom, but generally, I enjoyed doing them. After being at a school for as long as I had, or having been in the area for so long, you got to know parents and families very well, and this, I loved.

 One of the most memorable meetings was with the parents of a terrific girl I taught called Elaine. She’d managed (poor girl) as luck (or fate) would have it to wind up in my class every year. On this particular occasion, it was the Parents’ Evening just prior to GCSE examinations starting and the students’ handing in of option choices for the Sixth Form and A Level. Elaine’s parents seemed to me like Chalk and Cheese. From Malaysia, Dad came across as assertive and I sometimes felt a bit  used to getting his own way, while mum was petite, demure and sometimes appeared, although nodding her head vigorously, to have lost the thread of the conversation. In previous years, Dad had let Mum do all he speaking. He just let it be known every now and then with a look or a comment, that he did not value the Arts, and wanted Elaine (who was very bright – a very sharp Mathematician) to do Maths and Sciences at A Level.

Well, it comes upon Year 11 Parents’ Evening. Elaine has already warned me that Dad is on the ‘warpath’ because she’s chosen Art and Design as one of her A levels. I am sitting at my desk (on the school stage for some bizarre reason) and along come Elaine’s parents. Even before any pleasantries can begin, Elaine’s Dad has fired the first salvo “Ah misser Daly, so YOU’RE the man who’s responsible for making my daughter wanna do Art. Explain yourself” (I swear this is how the meeting began!)

Well; as he is saying this, he makes with his fist as if to bang the table on the words: ‘you’re’, ‘responsible’, ‘Art’ and ‘explain’ – although he doesn’t actually make contact. However, I notice that as he does this, his wife’s eyebrows arch up, almost jumping off the top of her forehead. It’s as if there’s a fine piece of filament attached from one to the other: Down goes the fist, up go the eyebrows.

At one point, I said something along the lines that

 “Elaine’s an intelligent girl, she knows her own mind. In fact, I haven’t persuaded her to do anything. It’s something I actively avoid doing. I give them some ideas about the pros and cons,then it’s up to them….”

‘Hrrmph!’ (down went the fist, up went Mrs Yong’s eyebrows) ‘And what’s Elaine gonna do with this Art anyway? Make pictures? Who’s gonna buy them? She’s never gonna make any money. She’s gonna be poor. She’s bloody good at Maths and Science, so why you gotta persuade her with this Art? ‘(fist/eyebrows)

‘She doesn’t have to be poor …

… ‘Look at the amount of revenue generated by the Creative Industries for this country every year, the backbone of which is Art and Design. Yes, she could be a poor, struggling artist in her garret as popular myth would have us believe, but she’s more likely to be a well-paid member of one or other of this country’s highly successful design disciplines: Graphic Design, Fashion Design, Textile Design, Interior design, Product Design, Industrial Design, or working in Design management, Photography, Film, Television, Media”….and so it went on. He tested me (‘and what if …?’ ‘Suppose that … ?’ ‘What would …?’)  and wanted concrete examples –

Luckily I was well prepared.

Finally, he sat back in his chair (‘Phhew!’ went Mrs Yong’s eyebrows)

‘OK,You convince me. But if she messes up I’ll come back and I see you good’ He said with a ‘mock scowl’

Well, another two years fly by, and it comes upon Elaine’s final A Level show. Her coursework and Exam pieces are displayed on the wall. Alongside is her Personal Study,  A mature and intelligent analysis, authoritative and insightful on the work of artists Gilbert and George. I am nervous to say the least!

 By and by I relax, and sure enough, among the very welcome visitors are Mr and Mrs Yong, Elaine’s sister, Tammy and boyfriend.  They go to see Elaine’s exhibition, then generously give their time to visit each of the other shows in turn. Before he leaves, Mr Yong makes a point of coming up to me, to shake me vigorously by the hand and thank me and my colleague. ‘Now I understand, now I understand’ He was knocked out. Elaine is now a successful graphic Designer and, before I retired, Dad used to pop in and visit from time to time, to see how ‘His Favourite Art Teacher’ was doing! ….

I made many friends and had many a laugh on those noisy, tiring yet strangely euphoric evenings. ‘Thank you’, and ‘Thank You’ especially, Mr. Yong.

© Andy Daly  2010