opinion : Alwyn Lau

Why I stopped attending Parent-Teacher Meetings

Alwyn Lau

AUGUST 7 ― First, there are zero refreshments. On any other occasion where you invite your clients over to discuss the “project status”, you’d at least serve up some orange juice or, if you’re really cheap, Chinese tea.

Cost-cutting measures? Budgetary concerns? I’m sorry, I didn’t realise Ribena and ice cubes cost a bomb.

Second ― and this is closely related to the first ― on the few times I did go, I had to wait about five hours for my five-minute conversation.

That’s because many parents treat the teacher as more than a teacher; they treat him/her as a counselor, prison warden, priest and Member of Parliament all at once.

Every sad, glad and mad incident related to their kids are brought up, discussed, debated and minuted.

I’m like, is this a PTM or an EGM?

In fact, often waiting for the preceding parent to finish talking is like waiting for the ATM user in front of you to finish: You sometimes feel like booking a Double Deluxe With Breakfast.

Parents-who-take-up-ages-chatting-with-the-teacher, haven’t you heard of email? Or the phone? Or, uh, making a separate appointment?

(And remember all this while there’s not a sandwich or Cappuccino in sight.)

The paradox, of course, is that for any conversation about progress (of any kind) you obviously need more than a few minutes.

So, yes, there we have the double-whammy failure of parent-teacher meetings: If parents stick to the communally obligated timeframe of 5-10 minutes it’ll be as superficial as unsolicited email; but if parents hog the teacher’s time, it’s unfair as hell to everyone else.

Perhaps this explains why, when I was teaching Form 5 Geography about a decade ago, this father whom I had never seen at parent-teacher meetings suddenly popped up and offered me a few hundred bucks to give his daughter special tuition.

Basically, the dude took the parent-teacher meeting out of the equation entirely and sought a win-win-win solution.

Third, I’ve given up expecting any new or useful advice from the teachers. Like night follows day, the conversation is the same every time. Your kid is top in class? Good job and keep it up. Your kid is a total idiot? Must try harder.

Given that, naturally, only one per cent of kids fall in the Stephen Hawking category, this means that 99 per cent of the time “Must try harder” will be used so often you start to wonder if every teacher is really the same person in disguise.

In truth, I don’t blame the teachers at all. They’re just doing their jobs. What do we expect them to say to you if your kid performed below average?

“Sorry, your child’s a total failure and always will be and if you’re smart you’ll volunteer his body for cybernetic experiments”?

“Must try harder” seems to be the only sensible advice.

Or is it?

Here’s an alternative: What if teachers declared that so-and-so student should stop worrying about “doing better” in this or that subject, and simply focus on excelling in those subjects he loved?

Would that be so bad?

What if teachers came straight out with the honest-to-God truth and said that Adrian from P3A should stop wasting his time with algebra and learn everything he can about Elon Musk instead?

For once I want to hear a teacher say Mr Lau, your daughter’s got a knack for deception and shortcuts and she’s brave as hell ― you should get her to join the CIA to put down insurgents in the Middle-East.

Or, Madam, I think your son is an absolute failure at Geography but he has the potential to be the youngest person to conquer Everest.

Or, Sir, your children are whiz kids who will make RM10 million over the next two years but they will never ever pass Maths. Deal with it.

Something like that. Instead of “Must try harder” which is really about getting your child to comply, try “Must fly farthest” i.e. let’s talk about how your child is going to be #1 in this area.

Fourth ― and this doesn’t apply to all teachers ― but have you ever spoken to a teacher who talked to you like it’s the end of the world if your child doesn’t get above 60 per cent in Science?

I once had this teacher say that if my kid doesn’t do better in Maths (I think) he’s going to face a lot of problems in the future and if I cared I should send him to tuition, after which she put on this cocky half-grin and declared, “Sorry, I’m very direct.”

Maybe it was divine mercy which stayed my hand and mouth; the former was about to show the finger and the latter wanted to say, “It’s precisely because of folks like you that kids like my son end up being needlessly depressed over their academic performance; it’s even worse that you and the system believe you’re doing a great job when in fact all you’re doing is hurting fragile kids.”

But, heck, I just smiled, said Thank You and left.

Which is why, nowadays, I merely smile at all Parent-Teacher Meeting emails, don’t even say Thank You, don’t wait for hours with no food and drink, and on the day itself? I take my kids for ice cream and a movie.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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