I Am A Weapon of Mass Instruction
Chapter 21: Period 7: Year 13 Graphics/After school events - 3:50-4:50pm onwards
One hour to go, and in the scheme of things, it was either going to be the hardest or easiest hour of the lot. It could be the hardest because it was the end of a very long, very busy day and now that I’d sat down a bit with the Year 12s, I’d been made aware of how tired I was, and that thought was now jumping up and down and waving its hands to get my attention. There was nothing for it but to push on through though, and besides, I was a pro at this by now and being a bit tired was nothing.
On the flip side, this could be the easiest lesson of the day (and there was no ‘could’ about it, it definitely was the easiest) because of the simple fact that there were only two students in this class. That meant a minimum of wandering around looking over shoulders and dispensing of advice. It really was a piece of cake. It was made even easier because the course content for the Year 13s in Graphics was an independent study, so aside from keeping a check on them and making sure they were on track, there wasn’t a whole lot for me to do with them. Added to this that the two students were lovely, and this made my Period 7s on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday really rather nice.
My extensive group for this class consisted of Emily and Joe. Without getting too gushing, Emily might have been the perfect student. She always attended and was on time. She was diligent and hard working, she took direction really well. She experimented with her designs and took risks. She used a wide range of materials. She was blissfully quiet, and generally held herself back from the usual madness that seemed to spontaneously happen in my room, but when she did chip in with a comment, it was perfectly timed and showed that she had something of a wicked sense of humour. She did have some flaws though, especially to the eyes of self-confessed geeks like myself and Joe. She’d never seen any of the Star Wars films - a heinous crime in my book - and was clearly not bothered in the slightest at my shock and outrage at this statement and just laughed when I demanded that she leave the room. In fact, I think that when it came to anything nerd-related, Emily was a blank slate, and she was perfectly happy with this situation.
Joe on the other hand, was another matter entirely. I suspect that if you cut him in half, you’d see ‘nerd’ written in the cross-section, like a slightly more fleshy stick of nerd rock. As it could be said that I was somewhat nerdy myself, this just meant that I could hand out sage nerd wisdom whenever the topic of conversation took a swerve into things comic-book or sci-fi related. By wisdom, I mean shouting at him when he was clearly being young, foolish and wrong about all things sacred.
I’d taught Joe all though his school years and we knew each other quite well. He was very into his design work, and also took Art and Product Design, so we all knew where his allegiances were, although having said that I was surprised when he finally decided on Product Design for what he wanted to study at university. The truth was, he would have done equally well at any of the three subjects he was studying. As much as I would have wanted him to take Graphics - because that would have scored me some minor points as one of your students taking your subject at university always did - had I been a betting man I would have said he’d choose Art. His large-scale paintings were beautiful and skilful, to the extent that I wasn’t entirely sure how he did them.
I should probably mention at this point that Joe’s final exam design work for me was stunning. Based around a certain Japanese monster lizard, it was strong and beautiful and striking. Joe too wasn’t afraid of experimenting with technique and is final screen printed posters were just sublime.
Joe could get a little stressed and strung out at times though, so part off my job was to calm him down so he could work more efficiently. I did this in a caring and sensitive way by taking the micky out of him at every opportunity, to take his mind off what was bothering him. Joe was a great student, and he was a pleasure to teach in the long time I knew him.
As an added bonus to this vastly over-subscribed group, Steve would often pop in for a chat. I’d taught Steve for a year in GCSE Graphics, where he and his mate Perry would collapse into life-threatening hysterics if I said the word ‘sack’. Naturally, I made it my business to say ‘sack’ as often as possible, often appearing silently - as if by magic - behind them and saying it very quietly, which achieved the double win of making them jump out of fright and then making them dissolve into fits of laughter.
Steve was a likeable chap, and like Lamarah, was one of those students who just wanted a bit of a chat, although in comparison Steven didn’t demand that I make him cups of tea, but could be counted on to have biscuits or sweets on him that he was always willing to share. Mostly he liked to chat about his deep and abiding passion in life: American professional wrestling, something which I was almost entirely clueless about, but this didn’t stop Steve telling me about it all in quite some detail.
He was always up for watching a movie trailer too, and would often ask me if I’d seen the trailer for this film or that film. On this note, I entirely blame Steve for a) telling me about and then b) showing me a short film involving spoons. The actual title of the film, to be found on everyone’s favourite video website, is ‘The Horribly Slow Murderer With The Extremely Inefficient Weapon’. I kid you not. I wish I was, by everything that is holy I wish I was kidding, but it is real. If you ever think you have an extra ten minutes and seventeen seconds in your life that needs filling up, go and watch it. The short version is that some strange guy beats his victim - very slowly and very inefficiently - to death with a table spoon. Yes, it’s that silly (but, also quite funny), and hey, almost 30 million viewers can’t be wrong can they? As a consequence of an enforced viewing of it, Joe and Tyler got to hear about it too, and it wasn’t a huge leap in anyone’s imagination before spoons started to appear in class and to be used as a weapon - if a rather slow and inefficient one - of retribution whenever one of them said something that annoyed the other. I completely and utterly, 100% blame Steve.
For the last year and a bit Joe had been part of a double act I liked to call ‘The Really Annoying Tyler & Joe Show’ where, in a blatant attempt to avoid doing any work, Tyler and Joe would snipe at each other and generally get on each others’ nerves, getting on my nerves as an added bonus. They were honestly as bad as each other, although Joe had the saving grace of actually knowing how to work and catch up on the time missed, although the same cannot be aid of Tyler. It was amazing how things quietened down after Tyler left us, and how much work Joe got done as a result.
One of the pieces of work that Emily and Joe had to do for their personal investigation was a piece of continuous prose writing, what everyone else like to call an essay, but what Joe liked to call a cruel and unusual punishment.
Writing, as it was for so many of our students, was not Joe’s thing, and despite no small amount of begging, he finally came to realise that he had to do it. The essay section was one of the few times in Year 13 that I actively taught the students something, as essay writing was often a source of pain and confusion for them. I’m quite good at writing essays, and at university I quite liked doing them, and I still have very fond memories of being in the library researching and doing draft after draft. Those were in the Good Old Days when
I knew that our college had a computer room somewhere, but I never did find out where it was.
I had had a laughably clunky electronic word processor that had a huge screen that allowed me to see an amazing three lines of text at a time. Good times. Even when I became more computer literate when I was doing my Graphics degree, when having to do written assignments, I still planned them out by hand first. When I saw a friend typing an essay straight from her head onto her computer I was frankly amazed, and it shows how far I’ve come that I can now do that myself. Being a teacher sometimes meant doing lots of writing very quickly, and you just didn’t have time to draft things out. I was somewhat stunned one year when I doing a set of reports that I wrote twice as much for them as I had for my dissertation for my Classics degree.
So I knew thing or two about writing essays, although, I will freely admit that I only knew how to write essays because I had painfully learned how to do them in the year when I retook my A Levels after my grades weren’t so good the first time around, so I had a certain amount of sympathy for my students, and made sure that they knew what they were doing. I made sure that they understood the kinds of questions they could get and the structure that each type inherently had. I made sure that they understood the structure of an essay and broke it down for them so that their word limit didn’t seem so scary, 1500 words being a terrifying prospect to an A Level student. I crafted their essay titles individually so it fit in with their projects and give them plenty to talk about.
Like all students when it comes to writing an essay, the problem, they soon realised, was being direct and to the point, rather than waffling on too much. Which brings me nicely to Joe. Joe struggled with his writing, and it wasn’t too much of an exaggeration to say that blood, sweat and tears were involved in the writing of it. Because I had a small amount of foresight, I made them do their essays with plenty of time before the final deadline, because I knew that redrafting would have to take place.
My comment to Joe when I saw his first draft was something along the lines of,
“Yes?” he said and, because we’d worked together for some years, he sensibly had suspicion colouring his reply.
“Is brilliant and I don’t have to do anything with it?” he said with the bright, shiny hope of the eternally-deluded.
“I wouldn’t quite put it like that, no.”
“I would have phrased it more like: did you write this at midnight after consuming either a lot of caffeinated beverages and/or alcohol and in approximately five minutes?”
“It was more like ten minutes,” he said, with no hint of shame in his voice, “and I may have had a cola or two beforehand.”
“Hmm,” was my own eloquent reply, coupled with my by now famous, and to Joe familiar: I’m Not Happy face. “Have you reread it since you wrote it?” putting ‘wrote’ in sarcastic air quotation marks as I said it.
“Not as such, no.”
“I suggest you do so, and then rewrite it so that it makes sense.” I said, handing him back
Imagine me repeating this conversation a number of times, with increasing levels of tightly-controlled frustration in my voice and you’ll get a sense of the joy and fulfilment teachers get from their jobs. Eventually though, after the occasional hissy fit from Joe and minimal rewriting needed from Emily, the essays were finally done, to the huge relief of both of them, although the horror of written work was to continue.
Their course specification made specific mention of a word limit for their personal investigations - which included the essay in the overall total. In the course of their project, they had a limit of 3000 words, which when I told them this at the start of the year, they both looked as if I’d asked them to cut off both their arms and promise to give me their first born child. They were supremely confident that they’d get nowhere near 3000, and so went merrily on their way. Of course, there was a little leeway with the word limit, but that didn’t mean they could go overboard.
It’s actually quite easy to do a quick word count just by looking at how much writing is on the page, and anything obviously over the limit would be frowned upon. With the essay done, it was time to do a quick word count and see if any editing needed to be done. Of course, both Emily and Joe cast me pitying and disbelieving looks when I asked them to do this as I was clearly delusional and making them waste their time, but they were forced to take back their recriminating stares when the word count started to go up and up and up. Joe surprised himself when he went past the 5000 word mark, and I stopped Emily once she reached 7000 and still hadn’t gone through the whole of her project. We all agreed that a little editing was in order, and so the slash and burn process of getting down to the bare bones of what they wanted to say began.
Perhaps even more so than the 12s, Emily and Joe needed little help and direction from me - they were experienced, they knew how to work and I’d given them enough structure to work in while giving them lots and lots of freedom. Joe was taking a trio of practical subjects, and so was Emily, who was doing the trinity of Art, Photography and Graphics, which meant that this year she had taken 45 hours of practical exams, and she had handled this with a supreme level of calm assurance.
Joe had had a little bit less supreme calmness, but had still coped with his own 45 hours of practical exams, and was now concentrating on getting his portfolio together for his university interviews. Portfolios are tricky things, and in keeping with most graphic products look very simple and straight forward, but in reality take a lot of work to get right. The end result should be strong and show off what you can do without having any filler pieces that stuck out like a sore thumb.
Rightfully so he was in a minor flap about his interviews, so much so that I had to play Comforting Mentor to the hilt, and it was a good thing that I did too. The day before one of his interviews - for his favourite university and where he really wanted to go - after making him assure me that he knew where he was going and how long it would take him to get there, I suggested that he might want to confirm the time of his interview, just in case. After convincing him that this was allowed and was a sensible idea, off he trotted to the office to call them, our building being notorious for having the worst mobile phone signal in the area.
Yet again, my near-godlike status was confirmed when Joe came back to our room looking both shaken and relieved at the same time.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him, “Is everything fine for the interview?”
“Yeah, it’s okay,” he said, producing sighs of relief from those of us in the room, who had of course stopped work at the prospect of something more entertaining turning up, “They just changed the time of the interview.”
“What?!” I spat, instantly outraged on his behalf for the lack of organisation.
“My letter said that the interview was in the afternoon, and to turn up at 1pm. They just told me that my interview is in the morning and that I should arrive at 10am.”
>insert rant from me about how unorganised universities are here<
“Well, at least you know now,” I said, after I’d gotten my rant out of the way, “And thank goodness I made you call, otherwise you would have missed it! Damn I’m good.” I didn’t often think that I was actually very good at all, but when I did, it was worth mentioning.
“Yeah, definitely,” muttered Joe still processing the change in plans, “Can I call my dad to let him know?”
“Of course - you can use the office phone again if you like.” and with that, another crisis was averted, and our brief excitement over, everyone grudgingly got back to work, except me as I scuttled off to tell my Head of Department the news.
What with the little drop of drama to liven up the proceedings, the rest of the lesson went quite quickly and without anything else to really comment on. As the lesson came to an end, I once again made sure that Joe was okay and knew where and when he was going - I think at this stage I was more nervous than he was - and he assured me he was, and with that I told them to head off as we’d all had more than enough of the day.
All that was left for me to do was to shut down my e-mail and computer, do a minor bit of tidying and then head to the office to grab my stuff before making a swift exit myself. Another Terrible Tuesday done. As ever, what I had approached with no small amount of dread the evening before and in the morning had actually been okay and rather plain sailing - apart from being a very, very long and busy day in the general madness that was a ‘normal’ day in a school.
Fatigue Lv: about 1000+ - sitting down had definitely been a mistake
Preparation Lv: -2 - luckily, tomorrow morning was one of my flexi mornings and I didn’t need to be in before break. Preparation schmeparation!
Fear & Dread Lv: 1 - the day was done, nothing disastrous had happened, I think I’d gotten away with it!
Fake Anger Lv: 1 - normal grumpiness for when Joe was around - it was expected of me by now
Real Anger Lv: 3 - general background angst that comes from working in a school
People who have annoyed me: 25 - I included Joe’s interview university on the list
Time remaining in the day: done!
This, however is not the end of the tale, as there is one last topic to talk about that takes place after school: Parents Evenings. I would suspect that if you uttered these two words to any teacher, the instant response would be a groan and rolled eyes that would usually be an indication of severe demonic possession. If you’d said those two words to me, that would certainly have been my reaction too, but the thing is, and I lower my voice to a whisper here, I actually quite liked Parents Evenings. It was one of the times when you actually got to be unashamedly positive about the kids, and it was really nice to see the shock on their faces that you weren’t tearing them to shreds.
Because Parents Evenings, funnily enough, happened in the evening after school, it meant a very long day for everyone who taught the year group that was being seen that night. There is nothing quite like the smug pleasure of not teaching that year group however, and being able to walk out of the building with the comforting knowledge that your colleagues would be there for at least another three or four hours. Sadly those occasions were few and far between as for most of my career I taught all of the year groups.
Knowing that you had to stick around until the event started meant that you had at least an hour or so to kill, and the more keen and conscientious staff members would fill that time with marking or general admin tasks. The other 99% of the staff made their way to the staffroom - one of the few times that the majority of the teaching staff actually used the space - as there was the prospect of free food on offer. Teachers, like ravenous teenaged boys, will never pass up the offer of free food.
The quality of this food had been in question for quite a few years, but everyone kept coming back every time, so it wasn’t really all that bad. I never figured out whether every school put on a spread for the staff on Parents Evenings, or if it was just our place, and the food was some sort of guilt-ridden bribe to get us to stay and at least be in a semi-decent mood when the parents arrived.
It was the usual buffet-stye fare: small sandwiches that required at least six to make you feel full, despite the nagging thought that you looked like an utter pig piling that much onto your plate; cocktail sausages and sausage rolls, and if the canteen was feeling adventurous there might even be a mini-quiche on offer too. The sheer culinary excitement of it all!
As I’ve mentioned before, you had to move fast at times like these otherwise the PE staff would swoop in and gobble down more than their fair share of things. It also wasn’t unheard of for staff not involved in the evening to duck in a grab a plateful as well - not that I would ever stoop to such base activities at all. No. Never. Not at all.
The offer free food and at least a little free time was a chance to sit down and actually socialise with your colleagues for a change, rather than only exchanging hurried hellos in the corridor. It was an opportunity to swap any nuggets of gossip you had - and there was always some gossip to be had - and to bitch and complain about the students that were annoying you more than usual.
Perhaps the most infamous element of the food before a Parents Evening was the cake. Teachers may like food quite a lot, but they love a piece of cake, so you would have thought that the cake on offer at these spreads would have disappeared in record time. Yet strangely, the trays of cake were usually left mostly full, with only a couple of slices taken by the newer members of staff or the truly desperate.
I always called the cake on offer ‘Brown Cake’ because it was just brown. It looked like chocolate cake, but there wasn’t any hint of chocolatey goodness to be found anywhere
in it. it was just brown. You know the episode of ‘Blackadder’ where Percy miraculously discovers the element of pure Green? Brown Cake was kind of like that, only with brown, and was just as exciting as the name suggests.
There was also the texture. Again, it looked like cake, but if you were foolish or inexperienced or desperate enough to take a bite, you very quickly discovered that it wasn’t cake at all, but some strange new hybrid material that was a cross between foam, cement and tar. Light and airy it was not. Mary Berry would not have been impressed at all. Because I am almost certifiably mad, I had more then my fair share of Brown Cake over the years, each time hoping that the horrible mistakes that had been made in the canteen in the past had been prevented this time, but alas I was mistaken every time.
Eventually the Senior Team got a bit fed up of the general rubbishness of the food on offer - Brown Cake being the worst culprit - and words were had, and subsequently the canteen upped their game a bit. Brown Cake wasn’t seen very often any more, and we had little Danish Pastries and eclairs instead. As a very dear friend and ex-colleague has just admitted on reading the Brown Cake section, she too had many a slab of ‘cake’ over the years and particularly loved the disconcerting churning in your stomach it produced when you were speaking to the parents throughout the evening.
There was always a ripple of excited comments in the staffroom when we realised that an outside caterer had been used for the event. This usually happened when Justin was in charge of organising things as he was very picky about his food and he refused to inflict canteen food on the staff. The time when the catering company in a feat of genius served fish finger sandwiches is still talked about with sentimental fondness to this day.
With stomachs somewhat full and the odd one or two weighted down with Brown Cake, we went our separate ways to get ready for the evening. It used to be that the parents did the rounds and you were just based in your room, the reasoning being that the kids knew their way around the school and it was a chance to lay out some of the student work to show off to the parents. It gave the teachers an added sense of security too, as the parents and accompanying students were very much on their territory.
In later years though an executive decision was made to put all the staff together in the main Hall. I’m not too sure what the reasoning was, besides the possible view that there would be less walking involved for the parents. There were a couple of downsides to the move to the Hall though. First off, it meant that you had most of the staff in there all talking at once, which was’t particularly quiet or private. We were also housed on the ridiculously tiny exam desks too, which meant that it just was’t possible to lay any work out. The keener members of staff still dragged down whole sets of books to show to the parents, and in our case the A3 folder the students did their coursework in. I have to admit that I never bothered doing this as it was far too such like hard work, and just brought my laptop down so I could show them my mark sheets and then surf the internet when I didn’t have an appointment.
The other main problem with putting everyone in the Hall was that everyone didn’t fit in the Hall. At best you might be put in the Drama Studio, with the big doors open to the Hall, but the all-black interior of the Studio was oppressive to say the least and it felt like you were meeting the parents in a particularly gloomy cave. At worst, you were banished to the canteen, which was next to the Hall. Being in here assured you of a quieter, but much, much more dull evening, with the added bonus that it was absolutely freezing in the winter months because the heating was turned off at the end of the normal school day.
There were two main versions of Parents Evenings: the busy and the dead, which come to think about it is either a good title for this book, or a fantastic name for a band.
Complain and whinge about them as we did, busy Parents Evenings were the better of the two. Tutors gave out appointment sheets to the appropriate year group a couple of weeks before the evening and it was then the responsibility of the students to make the rounds of their teachers and make appointments. We got our appointment sheets a couple of days before the kids, and because the very idea of a Parents Evening wearied me to my very core, I just taped it to my desk and let the students go for it.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the level of enthusiasm for getting appointments varied with the year groups. The Year 7s were the most zealous, and I don’t know if it was sheer excitement on their part, or they had been given a stern talking to down in REAL to see as many teachers as they possibly could. They’d ambush you in a little herd if you were foolish enough to wander the halls at break and lunch, their sheets clutched optimistically in their grubby little fists. The key was to never stop. Keep on moving, and they’d be forced to try and keep up, but you could lose them by ducking upstairs, and if one of them did manage to get out a request for an appointment time I’d throw back over my accelerating shoulder that they’d have to do it in class. Of course, this just led to clusters of them lurking by your door, but they got the message in the end.
The Year 8s tried hard to act as if they were too cool for school, but they were still into it and were quite good at filling out their sheets. The trick here was that their Parents Evening was timed to coincide with their Options Evening, so they had to put on the appearance of being keen so that you’d look favourably on their request to take your subject at GCSE level.
Enthusiasm started to wane somewhat in Year 9 and never really recovered after that. Where you had to beat the Year 7s back with a stick, it took many, many, many reminders to even get the Year 11s to dig their crumpled sheets out of their bags. Exhausted from that massive effort, they’d have to stop and rest, chatting while they recovered their strength. The Year 11s had good reason to be wary of seeing any of their teachers, as they knew that it would be a round of repeated ‘Could try harder’ comments that they dearly wished their parents wouldn’t hear. I had a friend at school whose parents would never take him to Parents Evenings, but would take copious notes which they would then take home and go through with him in minute detail. I always pitied him for that; I can never remember going to Parents Evenings myself, or my parents going either - I think that they just assumed I was getting on well enough, something which they perhaps regretted when it came to my lack of GCSE Geography coursework…
Busy evenings usually involved the younger year groups, and while it was nice to see them all being enthusiastic, there wasn't actually very much to say about them, especially for the D&T team, as at best we'd only seen them for six weeks before they’d moved on. If we’d only had our current group for a couple of weeks, we usually agreed to see our previous group as there’d be more to say about them, and there was the off chance that we actually knew the names of those students.
Quieter evenings were those involving the older students, as they often conveniently forgot to make appointments or to even tell their parents that it was taking place. 6th Form evenings were the quietest of all; my last Head of Department made all her A Level students make appointments, and assumed that the rest of us would too, and was a little put out when our evenings were quieter and shorter than hers as a result. I was always of the opinion that if the students and/or parents wanted to see us, they’d make it happen - being a teacher might require you to fulfil many roles, but I was adamant that social secretary was not one of them. If that meant that I had fewer appointments and got to go home earlier, then so be it.
Whenever I got my appointment sheet I would immediately cross out the first couple of appointments and then move on to crossing out the last half an hour of appointments. Parents Evenings ALWAYS ran late, so this was a pre-emptive strike on my part, as I knew that if I’d let the students make appointments right up to the end of the time slots, I’d have at least an extra 45 minutes on top of the officially timetabled appointments.
If you were lucky, the appointments the students took would fall with a few breaks scattered throughout the evening. If you were unlucky, they'd all be clumped at the end of the evening, just when you were most tired and your tolerance levels were minimal at best, but we understood that sometimes they were the only slots the parents could make, especially if they were coming straight from work themselves, and only made token grumbling protests at such scheduling.
Free food gobbled, stomach weighed down with Brown Cake, and your spot found - we had name labels on our desks - it was time to settle down with my appointment sheet and wait for the happy customers to start arriving. In the meantime, this was a chance to look at a couple of news websites and see what was happening in the outside world, but soon enough it was time to get your game face on and try to sound as if you knew what you were talking about. Of course, I’m joking, we definitely knew wast we were talking about, it was just that a lot of the time, and certainly for the younger year groups, there wasn’t a whole lot of variation in what you said, and I always fell into a rhythm quite quickly and ended up repeating the same script over and over but with minor variations depending on the student. In fact, unless the student was very good or very bad, they all pretty much heard the same thing. Good students might more praise, and the bad students might get the sterner version, but it was all remarkably similar.
My usual opening line, unless the student was really lazy or annoying in which case I’d go straight for the jugular, was,
“As you know, he/she's really horrible and mean and a terrible, terrible student,” and then pause to watch the student’s face drop in horror. The parents could tell I was joking and would play along, agreeing that the student concerned really was a horrible child. It was more fun to do this with the really nice kids as they usually thought you were being completely truthful, and it’d take a moment or two for the penny to drop.
Usually I’d relent and say,
“Oh okay, I suppose they’re okay…” as if I was only grudgingly acknowledging their basic humanity before launching into the praise part of the appointment, which was always a pleasure. I know I liked to play the grumpy card a lot in my career, and teachers generally can seem a bit grumpy and negative at times, but it really was a pleasure to be able to honestly praise the students and see their reaction to it.
Even better was when the parents completely played along with the ‘I hate children and think they’re horrible’ act, much to the dismay of their children. This usually had two stages: phase 1 was where they agreed how horrible their child was, and then phase 2 was when, after a little bit of grudging praise you identified an area that they could improve on, they gleefully suggested that they were happy with any form of punishment required to get them to work, which is usually when the student would just roll their eyes at the the sheer lameness of adults.
Joe’s mum and dad were particularly good at this and played along with undisguised glee, much to the disgust of Joe. Ed’s dad was also a keen participant, and I almost never took pleasure in reminding him that his dad had agreed that severe pain was on the menu as a possible motivating strategy. Ashley’s mum was also very good because she knew just how lazy he could be, but usually we ignored him for a while and just caught up on what she’d been doing since the last time we’d spoken. Naturally we did this because it irritated Ashley no end, at the same time as delaying the inevitable criticism he would be getting - he was caught both ways: forced to listen to us whitter on about rubbish, but also waiting and waiting and waiting for the bad news to drop. It was brilliant.
You could go into more depth with the older students as you’d seen them a lot more and there were higher stakes involved because they were on the exam courses. It was also on these evenings that timings completely went out of the window as lengthy chats were needed about work ethic and effort. We all knew that within the first two appointment slots everyone would be ruining late, but there was nothing to be done about it and no point whatsoever in getting annoyed by people being late. It was at times like these when people came and spoke to you while they were waiting for someone else, or just came to see you because you were free. There were also the parents who started off by saying,
“We don’t have an appointment, but…” with an appropriately grumpy teenager plodding behind them, and of course it was your pleasure to see them without an appointment every single time.
Parents Evenings were nice because on the whole you said positive things about the students, with the odd criticism and target thrown in because we were teachers after all and we couldn’t let an opportunity pass us by. They were never terribly negative affairs, mostly because the students who would have gotten the more negative feedback rarely bothered to turn up, even if they’d actually gone to the effort of making appointments. It was these students that you really wanted to talk to as it was they who needed the biggest kick up the backside to get them on track.
Busy evenings kept you talking almost non-stop, and would leave you drained as you made your way home, even more than usual. Quiet evenings though always seemed to be worse because you couldn’t shake the feeling that your time could be better spent doing other things rather than talking to a handful of parents, things like going home, eating and everyone’s favourite: sleeping.
Naturally on quiet Parents Evenings the appointments were spread out nice and evenly throughout the whole evening, and without fail you’d have one appointment scheduled right at the end of the night. This might be an opportunity to get some work done, and if I was feeling extremely enthusiastic I might duck back and forth to my room to do some marking, but mostly you just hung out with similarly bored colleagues and had a chat. You’d often see little clusters of staff around one table, particularly at the end of the evening, one colleague ducking off when they saw they had a parent waiting.
Eventually though, the last parent and student would leave, and your duty would be done, and you too could finally go home. It wasn’t uncommon for Parents Evenings to push your day out to 13 working hours, and you could always see the effect of it the next day when the car park would stay empty as everyone came in a little later than usual.
So there you have it, my dear reader - a somewhat normal day in the life of a teacher, if the life of a teacher can ever be called ‘normal’. Not all my teaching days were as busy as Terrible Tuesdays, but they were consistently as long and as tiring. A teacher’s work is never, ever done, and there were never enough hours in the day to get everything done. All you could do was to try and get as much done as you could in the time you had, and hope that your head stayed above water doing it.