Last week, I got to know that my three and a half-year-old nephew had a parent-teacher conference at his school. While I had been thrilled to see him finally get admitted in a school earlier this year and was fascinated to see him recite poetry and counting lessons he learned there, but this bit of information took me back to those days in school when I used to be absolutely fearful of these parent-teacher meetings. It made me relive the fear, the misery, and the few good days connected to these meetings.
You might think what could be the big fuss over such meetings. They were simple interactions after all. But my family took an avid interest in my studies back in the day and was extremely critical of my performances. These parent-teacher meetings gave them an opportunity to lecture me further on how to improve myself and hence I would always be apprehensive of them.
|I would rarely be this happy during a parent-teacher meeting|
Blessed with the sharp memory I have, I even somehow remember the very first parent-teacher meeting from my school. I was in my junior section then and the conference was arranged in the main assembly hall on the ground floor. More than a meeting, it was like a party as all students were given colored hats to wear and our study materials of the year were neatly arranged on separate tables. I was quietly munching on a packet of chips that was given to all of us when my mother entered and was greeted by my class teacher. My mother wasn’t comfortable in English and my class teacher, a Bengali lady, wasn’t comfortable in Hindi. So what followed was a series of “Bhobesh is a khub bhalo chele (Bhavesh is a very good kid),” by my animated class teacher and my mother’s repeated smiling nods. I remember my mother telling everyone back home about this and even years later she would often tease me, whenever I would be angry, with a “Bhobesh is a khub bhalo chele,” comment.
The parent-teacher meetings after that through the primary section were fairly good. I was a decent student – I would almost always be within the top five of the class – and most teachers were fond of me. And incidentally, all my class teachers throughout the primary section were also extremely fond of my mother. She had made a great rapport with all of them. In fact, during these meetings, the other subject teachers too would come to meet especially my mother and share a few good laughs with her. My good marks and decent behaviour meant that I would usually be praised in the parent-teacher meetings back then.
The best memory I have from this phase from those parent-teacher meetings was in the 5th standard. I had stood 5th in the class and my class teacher, Nivedita Ma’am, a very simple and benign woman who was very fond of me, was delighted to meet my mother. I remember them chatting enthusiastically– one in broken Hindi and one in broken Bengali – even after all the other parents had left. That day I went back home with my mother on a bus and she fondly kept ruffling my hair while I looked out of the window.
Things changed once I entered the secondary section. The teachers were stricter and meaner and the lessons became tougher. I got wings to fly and studies took a backseat. Poor marks followed and thereafter the parent-teacher meetings became a complete nightmare.
In the half-yearly of the 6th standard, I flunked in as many as five subjects. During the parent-teacher meeting, after seeing my mother’s eyes widen in shock as she went through my report card and what the teacher kept telling her about my poor performance, I broke down in shame in front of both of them. This was the first time in my academic career I had performed so poorly and she had understandably gotten a terrible shock. I couldn’t get over the distress in her eyes and the tongue-lashing she gave me that night. It really took me a long time to get over that ignominy.
Standard 7 was fairly okay as regards to my studies and the parent-teacher meet. For the first time, my father had come to attend the meeting and hence I was quite relaxed despite a mediocre performance. Unlike my mother, my father was quite lenient towards my studies and would hardly ever scold me because of it. I remember him asking just one question to my class teacher, Shubhati Ma’am: “How is he as a student?”. Thankfully, she said, “He is quite fine but can do better.” What was even better was that at night my father, on being prodded about the meeting by my mother and elder brother, just said that the teacher praised me and said I had potential. Both of them, hence, did not get the opportunity to apprehend me and things went smoothly that year.
Standard 8 was perhaps the best year of my secondary years as I passed all the subjects decently and stood 8th in the class in the finals. The teacher had no complaints with me during the parent-teacher meeting and it remains the last of the better ones I had as after a long time, my mother was happy with my performance. I remember taking my mother to a newly opened plush supermarket near our school after the meeting – an activity which I had never done with her prior to that – and having a lot of snacks with her there on that memorable afternoon.
The very next year, though, turned out to be one of my worst ones. I found it difficult to cope with the standard of studies in Class 9 and performed miserably in the half-yearly; failing in five subjects again. To make matters worse, my mother asked my elder brother to attend the parent-teacher meeting this time. This news gave me sleepless nights as I and my brother never got along during those days and far from shielding me, he had the habit of annoying me to death by constantly making a fuss about my studies and always complaining to my mother about how poor I was.
On the day of the meet, my brother, expectedly, on meeting the teacher showered her with a barrage of questions regarding me. “Does he disturb you in class?” “Is he able to concentrate?” “Who does he sit with?” “How do you think he can improve?” were some of his many unrelenting questions. After returning home, he ensured that my mother got the full dose of what happened during the meet laced with his added toppings and I was hence chastised relentlessly throughout that week. I was so broken and burnt after that incident that it took me quite some time to recoup.
That, thankfully, remained my last parent-teacher meeting experience as there were none the next year due to our 10th board exams and these conferences were discontinued from higher secondary onwards.
Today, when I look back I don’t think I ever over-reacted in my fear of these parent-teacher meetings. I was an average student, stuffed in a joint family where other children were usually better than me and hence was always expected to match up. I couldn’t do so for varied reasons and would generally feel shame and embarrassment on facing the teacher and my mother with my report card on the meeting days. The others in my class were let off easily as their parents hardly ever bothered about their studies and hence could never relate to my anxiety towards these meetings.
Yesterday, I deliberately asked an old school friend if he had any particular memory of any of the parent-teacher meetings we had in an attempt to try and understand how others viewed them. He said that he didn’t even remember having those meetings or who came to attend them from his family. This actually gladdened me. Because regardless of the mixed memories, I still feel very fortunate that I connected at this level to those parent-teacher meetings that I am being able to relieve them here today.
Our life is made of a whole ocean of myriad moments and memories. To just wade through this ocean without looking back at some of the more inconsequential memories as well, is to me, squandering away a chance to connect some beautiful dots of our lives. Those parent-teacher meetings may not always have been pleasant but they surely hold a place in my colourful life and refuse to fade away. And although I don’t really look back at them fondly always, I certainly do wish that every now and again someone would just tease me with a “Bhobesh is a khub bhalo chele,” comment when I get angry today.