September 1, 2010

Moving On Up: Open House 2010

Somewhere between directing taxi drivers, talking to people in stores and casual conversations in Cali my Spanish has drastically improved in the last year. I not only feel more confident about my pronunciation, but I also know a lot more colloquial vocabulary that helps me to understand and communicate in a culturally appropriate way. So by last week I felt confident in my decision to speak in Spanish for the opening part of my time with 8th grade parents at Open House.

Yesterday morning I told my principal I felt good about it and I felt surprised at my lack of nerves since the year before I was a nervous wreck.

Then it was 5 pm and the parents were showing up and I thought...maybe I should just speak in English and let the translator handle it. That would be easier, right?

At 5 pm all the teachers attended the general assembly for parents before they are sent out to visit all their student's teacher. Around 5:15 pm I witnessed the director of my school (who has been in Colombia for many, many years) freely admit to not being able to pronounce a certain word in Spanish. At about 5:20 pm I witnessed him butcher the same word again and all the parents just laughed casually. At this point I decided that if he could do stand up in front of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade parents, then I could probably do it in front of 8th grade parents, 20 at a time. What was I so scared of anyway?

Basically I get nervous that I sound grammatically like a five-year-old and that isn't really a positive first impression you want from your child's teacher. However, as my friend Angie pointed out, the parents here really appreciate any attempt to learn or speak Spanish, so why not give it a shot? Also, I do all my conferences in Spanish, so the parents are going to hear me speak in Spanish at some point anyway!

Three hours later and I was done with Open House, having done my personal introduction five separate times, all in Spanish. And, just as others predicted, the parents were very receptive and seemed appreciative that I gave it my best shot. Basically Open House round two went so much better than Open House round one, mostly because I just felt so much more comfortable living in Colombia and also as a teacher.

As a result of my own personal nerves in tact last night, I had the chance to pay more attention to what was happening around me, and here are some observations.
  • Parents are more lost than their children. Watching 200+ people run around from building to building and try to find classrooms was hysterical. Watching the confusion reminded me of how Open House happens in my family, where my mother calmly finds her way from room to room while my father wanders around aimlessly and never actually makes it to academic presentations but at the end of the night knows all the music teachers, janitors and cute Spanish teachers by name.
  • The parents of my students would not last ten seconds in a class with our cell phone policy. The middle school and high school policy is that if your phone is seen or heard in class, the principal keeps it until Friday at 2:30. On the second violation, the principal keeps the phone for 30 days and on the third? Until the end of the semester. I think about 50 parents would have had their phones confiscated in the first minute of the assembly last night, let alone those who were texting during my presentation. So awkward, but culturally they just really don't view this as rude because it is so prevalent! No wonder that when a student's phone rings in school, 95% of the time it is a parent.
  • As much as I love meeting my students' parents, yesterday was one of the longest days of the year and I am throughly glad it is over!

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