As a teacher, I dread meeting parents. I rue having anything to do with parents. I quiver when I see them. I shiver in the class when I catch myself saying or doing something and then wonder how the children will report it to their mothers at the end of the day. I worry. I fret. I even hide in the office or the toilet to escape them. Parents are trouble. I don’t want to send information home. I don’t want to write anything - good or bad - in the children’s agenda notebooks.
When parents talk to me more often than not it is to complain about something. That’s how it feels, and that is my experience of them. Here in Japan openly complaining is frowned upon, which means that parents go behind my back directly to the Vice-Principal - the man in charge - in the office. That means that instead of approaching me directly they go straight to involving Administration, which is a bad thing, believe me. But if they do work up the gumption to complain directly to me I know that some bad business indeed is coming my way.
Periodic teacher-parent meetings are inevitable, of course. After report cards go home especially. Sometimes these meetings go well. Sometimes they do not. But I can say one thing for sure. At no teacher-parent meeting have I EVER discussed the things that I want to talk about. Never. If I said that to the parents they would probably be surprised. But my experience is that when parents come to a meeting they come to hear themselves talk, not me. They come to unload something from their chests. My job is to sit there and take it. They leave feeling they have accomplished something and that we have had some meaningful communication. Little do they suspect that I don’t know what the hell they were on about, and they are equally in the dark about me.
In Asia polite social fictions are more important than they are in Western cultures because cracks in the façade of social harmony are more perilous here. The really perilous thing, though, is that people willingly forget (or neglect) that so many things are fictions. Report cards are polite fictions. Words spoken at parent-teacher meets are expressions of polite fiction. Apologies given and accepted are polite fictions. And so on.
I have standing orders from the Administration of my school NEVER to say what I really think to students or their parents, and NEVER write what I really think. Well, with instructions like that, what’s the use of a report card, you might wonder? Not much use at all is the answer. But that’s no surprise, really. I myself knew from the fourth grade that report cards were “polite fictions” and I ceased having much regard for teachers’ admonitions. Oh, I was never a bad student. I was relatively obedient. But the threat of punishment, or the threat of instructor disapproval held no sway over me.