Students, with serious expressions clutched their small manila envelopes and followed their parents silently through the halls of the local public school. It was that time of year again, report card time and time for the parent-teacher conferences.
On a personal level, my meeting with the teacher went well. I like la MapucheRican's teacher. She's honest, open-minded and gets where I'm coming from, even when I'm complaining about how poorly the 37 1/2 minute extra period is being run or how conservative and useless the new HIV/AIDS curriculum will be. La Mapu is doing well. She is slowly learning to enjoy writing and her mouth in class is catching up with he speed her mouth has here at home.
Every time parent-teacher conferences kick into gear , I am kicked into service. The NYC Department of (mis)Education woefully neglects its non-English dominant parents. Besides translating notices of meetings into Spanish, throwing to side all sense of confidentiality, I translate for Spanish dominant families at the meetings. This means that before and way after meeting with my child's own teacher , I run around the school to where I am most needed.
I was called to a kindergarten class last night to translate between a parent and an old-school teacher.
"Your son should be reading at B level and he's reading at A level. You don't speak English so obviously no one can sit down and read the books I send home every Monday. If no one can help him read in English then I don't know why I should bother sending the books home with your son who is going to have to repeat kindergarten anyway". The teacher began and then looked at me to translate.
The mother explained she was trying. That she enlisted the help of her sister who spoke better English. The teacher responded by reading word by word to the mother a kindergarten level book as an example.
"Oh and your son doesn't know how to clean himself when he goes to the bathroom"
The mother's eyes filled with tears. A younger child sitting happily on his mother's lap grabbed a pen from the table. The pen was promptly grabbed back from the child by the teacher who sternly said, "Don't do that".
"Maybe you should take English classes. You can take class at a college or something." No specifics were given as to where these programs were or just as importantly , how much they cost. The family and I were quickly led out so another family could come in and I was left apologizing to the mother because I too had no resources to offer her.
This morning I inquired if teachers went through any sort of professional development or training specifically dealing with how to work with non-English speaking parents. Not surprisingly I was told they did not.
So much lip service is played to the diversity of the NYC public school system but no one is talking about how poorly non-English speaking parents are dealt with. No one talks about the way economic, race (because most of these are parents of color), and national privilege play out in the hallowed halls of education.
Yes this is an angry mami post...and my mind is spinning with how to turn it into action.