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Class Act

PTA: Mark the mums

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Parent-teacher meeting

Parent-teacher meetings seem to be about labels, lip gloss and a child's grades.

"Can you tell me exactly why my son was not selected for the public speaking competition?” says Mom A, whipping out a leather organiser and a Swarovski-encrusted pen. “Because, if you had told me well in advance, I could have trained him.” Mom A, dressed in her Tahiliani best, is then told that the students were selected based on their impromptu performance in class. You can tell she’s not happy with the explanation, and after 20 minutes of backing and forthing with her son’s first grade teacher, she steps aside to let the next mother through. But she’s already on her iPhone to call the best public speaking guru in town.

Mom B obviously knew Mom A would go Tahiliani and Swarovski. Which was why she decided to go beachy — noodle straps, flouncy skirt and pink flip flops. It doesn’t matter that Bangalore is land-locked . She’s got the 12th grade boys ogling, but she pretends not to notice as her daughter’s teacher begins with her one-on-one session before report cards are handed out. She checks out the other moms — too frumpy, too jazzy, too designer, okay, so-so ... yeah, she’s got this PTA session covered. She’s the one they’re all going to be talking about.

If you thought PTA meetings were all about a frazzled-looking mother rushing in from work, collecting report cards and heading back home after a short discussion with the teacher on marks — good, bad — and handwriting — awful, chicken scrawl — you couldn’t be more wrong. PTA meets are now social events, coming in a close third after birthday parties and sports days.

Yummy mummies clacketing down hallowed school corridors in strappy stilettos, a Louis Vuitton on one arm and a chubby tot on the other, is a common sight in most schools in the metros. Nalini Mitra, whose son studies at Vasant Valley, says that women are so trendily dressed these days that they can walk out of the PTA and into a party. “Some of them dress up in saris especially for PTAs, perhaps because they want to present a more serious and motherly image,” says Kavita Devgan, a freelance writer whose son studies at Modern School, New Delhi.

And image does matter. Just ask Radhika K, mother of a seven year-old in a Chennai school. “If I don’t dress well, I think the teachers won’t take me seriously. Somehow carrying a designer bag, wearing fantastic clothes seems to matter. I can tell I’m given more attention in school by my child’s teachers . It’s all about perception,” she says.

But we’re not just seeing a tectonic shift in terms of fashion. PTA meets have changed rather dramatically too in terms of the involvement of parents. “In our time, our parents would come to the PTA to pick up the report card and maybe ask a few questions. Now, they are much more demanding. They want to know about the curriculum as well as extra-curricular projects which have gained a lot of importance after the new grading system was introduced,” says Devgan.

Teachers have to devote a good 10 to 15 minutes to parents of each child. Often, long queues build up outside the classrooms on PTA days. To cope with the rush, Delhi’s Shriram School has allotted parents specific time slots. “This way we don’t have to waste time waiting to speak to the teachers. Even if we have to wait, it is never more than five minutes,” says Leher Kala, a filmmaker whose son studies at Delhi’s Shriram School.

In several schools in Chennai, the PTA is now called an “open house session”, where parents and teachers have excruciatingly long discussions about the child’s performance, right from whether they are rolling their Rs properly to why they don’t eat spinach. If teachers used to steer the sessions earlier, now it’s parents who are in the driver’s seat.

Sabitha S, whose two kids study in one of the poshest schools in Chennai, says most moms come armed with information. “I’ve seen mothers come to open houses with detailed comparisons of what children from the same class are doing in other schools. They want to know why the school is teaching in a particular way and get into every little aspect,” she says. Sometimes, moms get really aggressive. “I call it the soccer mom syndrome. We want our children to be the best, we cannot understand if they are not, and we are constantly pushing the teachers to push the children. The open house is one place we want to make sure we moms stand out, hoping that in some way that will translate to the child standing out,” adds a candid Sabitha. She confesses that she usually does her children’s projects. “At the open house, I’m always told how my children’s projects are the best.”

The bright side to this trend seems to be the now near-perfect attendance of parents at PTA sessions. “Parents used to skip these meetings but nowadays, they turn up at every one,” say M Srinivasan, founder-principal of Gear Innovative International School, Bangalore.

For instance, at the parent-teacher meetings at Little Flower Public School, Bangalore, held four times a year, 95 per cent parents show up. The school also has a suggestion box for parents because of the interest they show. At Bangalore’s New Horizon school, counsellors are involved in the session to brief parents about the child’s performance . “Nothing negative is said or written about the child without consulting the counsellor. They will see how the child can be helped. During the meeting, the school also makes presentations on various initiatives it has taken so that parents are satisfied,” says Mohan Manghnani, chairman, New Horizon Institutions.

Parents today are interested in knowing the child’s performance not only in studies but also in every other activity, says Srinivasan. So you can see why Mom A is still furiously working her phone.

Class act
Be there. A parental no-show sends a message to a child that maybe school isn't such a high priority or that the child isn't .

Share information. Tell the teacher what you know about your child as a learner. You know what your child loves and hates about school and what motivates your child. The information can help a teacher be more effective.

Don’t obsess about marks. Use a report card as a starting point, not as the centerpiece of the discussion.

Trust your child's development. Try to relax a little and have faith in your child and your child's journey through school.

Leave your own school baggage at home. We all have memories of teachers and classes that made us miserable. Set those aside and approach your child's teacher as a partner.

(With reports from Shobita Dhar in New Delhi and Shruti Balakrishna in Bangalore.)

Reader's opinion (2)

Tejaswi GOct 24th, 2011 at 12:08 PM

Of-course, the fathers do attend and unlike the moms in the article stick to specifics about the child's good and improvement areas.I do agree that teachers are not ready to be candid on the child's negatives which is not very good as it affects parents understanding of the child's overall progress.

Nitin IyerNov 26th, 2010 at 17:20 PM

Very nicely written article. But one thing missing here was the mention of the fathers attending these monthly sessions. Cant they have something of their own?

 
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