Friday, April 04, 2008

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Ever since I began teaching, I've gone to meetings, received memos, and been offered countless tidbits of wisdom about how to deal with open school night. Usually, they're horrifying, and I imagine the parents will arrive heavily armed to threaten our lives. Or perhaps they'll simply kill us all and be done with it. However, even when I taught special ed., that sort of thing never happened.

As an ESL teacher, I don't get that many parents. Perhaps they're worried we can't find a translator. At the table next to mine a woman was explaining to my colleague that she was pushing her son, who'd been here for six months, to become a pharmacist. Therefore, it was absolutely imperative that he score 2100 on the SATs. My colleague kept trying to tell her that perhaps first, he ought to try passing ESL 2 with an 80 rather than a 75.

I had a very different conflict. A very good beginning student of mine arrived with her mom and her brother, who appeared all of six years old. He spoke English very well.

"I'm Charles!" he declared.

I greeted him, and he informed me he had a card, which he proceeded to remove from his hat so I could examine it. It had a lot of Chinese writing on it and I didn't understand it at all, but I told Charles I thought it was a great card. He then happily replaced it in his hat, and put the hat back on his head.

I told the mom that her daughter was doing great work and getting excellent grades, and that she ought to try to practice English more outside of class. I then made the egregious error of suggesting she practice with her little brother.

Charles was livid. "I'm not a little brother!"

Drawing on all the skills I had acquired from all the memos and meetings, I corrected myself. "Maybe you could practice English with your big brother," I said. Charles beamed, and the looming catastrophe was averted.

But it was a slow night indeed. One of my colleagues suggested that she had interviewed five parents, and that any teacher who'd reached this milestone could go home. It took me some time, but I hit the mark. Being a responsible pedagogue, I queried my supervisor about this rule. She said that I needed at least seven, and suggested further that if I did not reach that lofty goal, I'd have to stay in the building all night.

It was rapidly approaching closing time, and this posed a problem for me. Thinking fast, I asked a colleague if she'd lend me two of hers. "Sure," she said. But when I told my supervisor, she said borrowed parents were two for one, and that I needed two more. Fortunately, I was able to borrow them from someone else at the last minute.

But she says next year I'm gonna owe her.
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