‘Jason, you are just like an elephant, you never forget’. As the words fell from my mouth I knew that what I was saying was being misinterpreted.
Mrs Regan was not happy and she was on the rampage. We knew she was in school because Mr Regan was sitting in the car park with the engine running. It was always the same. You could see teachers taking the long way round to avoid her, the head teacher locking his door and the reception staff suddenly organising an emergency office closure. Mrs Regan was a force to be reckoned with. A sturdy 19 stone she was attractively tattooed with Love and Hate on her knuckles. She had the strength of a double decker bus with a face to match the rear. In her leaner years you might imagine that she had a career as a boxer….or possibly a cocker spaniel.
Working late one evening I was in the staff room when the door swung open, violently. Mrs Regan filled the door frame and immediately began her verbal assault on me. ‘My son is not a ******* elephant!!!’ I quickly looked for an escape route. There was none. I tried to rebut her attack but my protestations fell on deaf ears. She was determined to tell me what she thought of me, my treatment of her ‘wholly innocent and misunderstood’ child and why all teachers are ******** ******* *********** (fill in your own blanks). I had no choice but to sit and listen, hoping that someone would come to my aid; that someone would step in to shield me from the blast. There were times when I could hear footsteps approaching, when I thought that my hero would arrive. But the footsteps followed the same pattern. Slow approach, silence and then the patter of a rapid retreat into the safety of the main building. I realised soon that Mrs Regan would be able to say what she wanted, for as long as she wanted, and as loudly as she wanted.
After 10 minutes (although it felt like so much more) she was spent. I had learned some new swear words. She had exhausted herself. She had nothing more to say and little energy to say it with. She turned back, satisfied with my obvious trauma and climbed into the waiting car.
Some time after the incident I was surprised to hear that she had been saying positive things about me. I had apparently earned her admiration by standing my ground (not sure I saw it like that) and her view of me had changed. I was, apparently, not as ‘soft’ as those other teachers. She had even told her son to ‘be’ave’ for me. Other teachers marvelled at this turn around.
Sometimes engaging with the parents is, shall we say, challenging. Sometimes we are fighting against a tide of learned perceptions and low expectations. Sometimes our attempts to bridge the gap fail dismally. Yet on occasions we get through. There are times when against all the odds the relationship develops and some trust is nurtured. I am not going to pretend that the incident with Mrs Regan was part of some grand plan to engage her in her son’s education. Neither am I going to try and persuade you that I had deliberately won her over. I had provoked her engagement and she had responded in kind.