What not to say to parents at a Parents' Evening
Things that it would be so easy to say at a Parents' Evening, but that a teacher should absolutely, definitely avoid. Disclaimer: some of the statements should not be read by anyone who struggles with sarcasm.
"Walter is extremely annoying." Either parents already know and are feeling guilty about foisting their irritating progeny on you and don't need reminding, or their child is the apple of their eye and will likely be extremely offended.
"Do I even teach a Harry?" It turns out that parents are extremely precious about their offspring and can be quite upset by the idea that they are not as important to their teachers as they are to them.
"Amy has some strange habits." She probably picked them up from mum and dad. To then these 'strange habits' might be perfectly normal.
"He is extremely rude; now that I have met you I can see why." Although this may be true, parents are unlikely to take kindly to this. And rude parents can be a real pain.
"Alex really takes after you" (and then say he is lazy/uncommunicative/not that bright later in the conversation). Although many traits do have a genetic factor, most parents are intelligent enough to pick up this sort of backhanded insult.
"Mark does not appear aware of the concept of hard work. Do you think you model persistence, determination and focus effectively at home?" Even if parents both don't work, go on holiday every other week, and live off a trust fund, they probably have a highly inflated opinion of themselves and the amount of effort they make in life. Everyone seems to believe that they got where they are through their own hard work. Or they might be working so hard that they aren't at home to be good role models. (Or anywhere in between!) So this comment is, at best, unproductive and, at worst, pretty rude.
"Mary is unable to complete practical tasks safely. Is she dyspraxic or just unable to comprehend basic instructions?" This is offensive on many levels.
"Wow! You must've had Olly when you were quite young/old." Either way has negative connotations: young suggests that mum had children as a teen, made poor moral decisions and is probably not very well educated (the 'suggests' is vital in this context, young mums may be extremely well educated ethical individuals, but this is not society's perception) old suggests that mum is not ageing well. In general avoid making assumptions about a woman's age.
"Dasha's sister is doing wonderfully." And then discuss older sister for 10 mins forgetting all about poor Dasha. This tells parents that you have favourite students. And Dasha isn't one of them. Equally spending Dasha's slot talking about distruptive younger sister devalues Dasha's good behaviour and effort. Talk about the right child.
"I can see the resemblance between you and Suzy." This goes down especially if either mother or Suzy are slightly strange looking.
"I think I saw that on Freda's Facebook page." Don't follow students on Facebook/instagram/snapchat. And don't stalk them either: it's creepy.
"Did Martha actually go to prep/primary school at all?" Questioning parents ability to send their children to school turns out to get their backs up. Equally don't say anything about other educational systems, such as Steiner schools, as this might be where Martha went for her primary education or the kind of school her siblings attend.
"Does Henry have a strong father-figure?" Personally I think this is sexist, the gender of a parent does not dictate the kind of role model they are, and any mums who are single or have a female partner are likely to agree.
"Would you like to meet up for coffee sometime?" You may both be single. But Parents' Evening is the least romantic venue in history. And their child may also be there. Save it for another time Romeo/Juliet!
"Are you really Christopher's dad?" This can only end badly.
"This is Max's target" (and then give a low grade). This dictates to parents and students what they are capable of achieving at best, regardless of how hard they work... fixed mindset alert! It can give students an excuse to switch off, or, if the target is high, can leave them feeling constantly demoralised.
"Amin is highly talented." As parents they probably already think this; and you saying it just confirms their fixed mindset views about Amin's abilities and intelligence. Praise Amin's effort or a great piece of work instead to instil a growth mindset in both parent and student.