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Fear of Parent –Teacher Meets

October 5, 2006

Indian parents feel very uncomfortable at parent-teacher meets. The prospect of meeting their children’s teachers is not only daunting, it often creates anxiety and even fear. ‘It makes me nervous,’ admits Ratna, a parent of two school going boys. She feels that it is not possible to talk openly about their child’s problems and often comes away with the feeling that nothing substantial has been achieved.

She shouldn’t really have a cause for worry as both her sons have been faring well at school, but she does. ‘If I complain about something, even if minor, the teacher could take it out on my child. My friends feel the same way,’ says Ratna, who was reluctant for her full name be used in this article.

In Indian schools parent-teacher meets often do not achieve their purpose: helping parents help their children. Clearly the problem does not lie either in the number of meetings held, or the lack of parents’ access to teachers. Almost every school holds such meets regularly. Parents are usually invited in batches.

Incidentally, South Point school in Calcutta does not hold parent-teacher meetings due to the sheer volume of students and space constraints. ‘Our set-up is so huge that it is difficult to hold such meetings. But parents come every day to meet the teacher,’ says Ms Solomon, vice principal of the school.

Schools which do hold parent-teacher meetings plan out the agenda in advance. Parents receive reports on their children’s performance. But more importantly, this is an opportunity for the parents and teachers to discuss any specific problem pertaining to their wards. Teachers insist that students and parents can air any grievance. Ms. I. Samuel, Head of Junior School at Pratt Memorial, whose teaching career extend over 32 years says, ‘ I know about this fear of approaching teachers but it’s an attitude that parents have built up themselves. Otherwise why should parents of even nursery children have this fear? At that point of time they do not know any of the teachers or even the school.’

Ms. G. Gray, the senior coordinator at the same school feels that this is a problem with Indian schools. ‘It’s a traditional hang-up and I don’t know how it has developed.’ Though some schools adopt a positive attitude towards parent-teacher meets, it does nothing to alleviate the very real apprehension that parents feel. ‘Parents are treated like sheer poison in my child’s school,’ exclaims Ratna, ‘it starts with the arrogance of the darwan, and extends to the clerks and teachers. And in front of the principal we are make to feel like little children!’
Another parents recounts the terrible humiliation of being shouted at by the principal for a minor offence committed by her child. ‘I have never been spoken to so rudely in my life. How could I be expected to talk freely to this person at the parent teacher meeting?’ asks Priya.

A lack of privacy at the meets is also a cause for complaint amongst parents. Teachers on their part have their grievances too. ‘Parents are quick to blame the school and teachers if the child fares badly,’ says Renu Das, who teaches children of grade IV in a reputed school. Teachers also feel that parents are ignorant about the teaching process and classroom realities.
Even granting that there are genuine grievances on both sides, the initiative to make parent teacher meeting comfortable for parents and meaningful for students should come from the school. After all, teachers are in a better position to make such meets effective.

(Published in The Telegraph, Calcutta)

Related Reading:  Helping children score well at school
Selecting the right school
What makes children do well at school
Whether there is a correlation between early schooling and professional-success
The difference in quality of Indian schools

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