Friday, October 26, 2007

Keeping My Voice and My Dirty Nails

or... Hello? Yes, I Can Talk - I'm Just At Parent/Teacher Conferences. What Is The Teacher Wearing? Umm..."

This week for two days I came to school and sat at a little table in the library and talked and talked and talked with parents and students at conferences. Going into conferences I wasn’t all that nervous. I was thinking about how convenient it would be if all the students who were not doing too well had parents that spoke good English, but other than that I was feeling pretty confident.

The conferences ended up feeling like my Spanish mid-term oral exam. I was given a translator but I ended up sending him away. He was a little too pushy and I found out that 1) I have learned enough Spanish to get through a parent/teacher conference fairly smoothly and 2) if I get stuck the student is right there to translate for me. I learned a few new words too and tried to incorporate them into the other meetings as much as possible.

Nothing amazingly entertaining happened over the course of the two days other than me drinking too much water in a preemptive effort to not lose my voice. I was successful and can speak with a full voice today; however, the library urinal and I are now on a first-name basis.

A lot of the things about the interactions at the conferences were very similar with my previous experiences. Some parents think 99% is fantastic and others think it is not good enough. Some parents think 60% is fantastic while others are starting to tan some hide. Some parents yell at their child right there in front of you at the table and others just give a death glare that would freeze lava. It was interesting to see that the interactions and reactions between the parents and the students were the same as what I’ve seen in North America.

There were four main differences though. First, if you didn’t know any better, you would have thought you were at the social event of the year. Most all the men were in suits and the women were so done up with jewelry and flashy clothes they needed to wear their sunglasses inside. Also, I was very aware of my fingernails and how I hadn’t had time to get a manicure yesterday…or ever in my entire life. The appearance thing is HUGE here. Another import teacher was talking with a mother who, while being told about her son’s progress in class, was leaning back to see under the table to check out the entire ensemble the teacher was wearing – skirt, shoes, and probably toe nails too!
Secondly, it is strange to give a kiss-hello to a student you are about to tell is failing. It’s kind of like giving someone a hug and then kneeing them in the groin.
The third difference was the total number of parents I talked to. Usually, in the States, by the time student reaches high school, the parents stop attending conferences religiously. Not here. Believe it or not, I had a 96% attendance rate. Had I brought a book to read, I would not have had much time to crack it open.
Finally, and this is very cultural, Colombians cannot not answer their cell phones. It may be physically impossible for them to ignore a call. I had at least seven parents answer their phones mid-conference and, when I stopped to let them take the call, they would motion for me to continue on. (!!!)
Welcome to Colombia.

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