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The Mamas and the Papas

by Jose Vilson on November 20, 2007

mrvking.jpgI was eating dinner at a fine Irish establishment at Washington Heights in the middle of the parent-teacher conferences at my school when someone mentioned the eclectic mix of music above us. Somewhere between Tom Jones’ “Pussycat” and my Irish nachos, I thought: “Well, as long as they don’t play ‘Age of Aquarius,’ there might be a sense of normalcy in this predominantly Dominican neighborhood.”

“This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, the age of Aquarius, Aquarius! Aquarius!”

And that’s pretty much how my day went. I expected to have the most parents percentage-wise (I usually do, hence why it’s my time to shine), and I had a set script for every kid, bringing out my Excel grading book to show that 1) I’m ready and willing to show both parent and child that there’s no way around me and 2) that in case they wanted to play the politics game I was ready for them. However, I wasn’t hostile, and most of the parents were awesome.

Here’s my script, mostly unscripted, but the skeleton usually looks like this:

  1. Introduce them and give them “warm” feedback i.e. give them a sense that there’s work being done and that the child’s not hopeless.
  2. Give them “cold” feedback i.e. what they can improve on in the future, further addressing how honest and forthcoming I’ve been to them and their parent about their progress.
  3. Always end with a positive outlook, and a definite goal numerically and specifically targeting one of the 6 sections of the grade.

Of course, I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, so even in 2 languages, it still got old really early. However, I did have a few exceptions.

I had the parent who honestly looks like she’s heard it all about her child, and it hurts to see. I didn’t know where to start because we already had the conversation about her child last week, that after me and my ELA co-teacher had a meeting with the child about how best to address his needs. We asked him to re-evaluate what he thinks about himself, and how we as teachers could help him get to where he needs to. That’s still pending.

I had the parent who had “no idea” how their child failed, especially after the conversation we had a month ago. If you asked me a month ago whether the child would turn in their journal, I would have said yes. A week after that conversation, she didn’t, so she barely passes. It’s unfortunate because she’s a sweet kid, but sweet won’t cut it into high school, college, etc …

I had the parent who needed reaffirmation for her child, so I gave her the whole “She can’t just be the cute little model. She needs to continue until she gets to high school, college, etc. until she becomes a strong and independent woman where she doesn’t need a man, and that’s where I want to see her go.”

I had the parent who has a reputation with one of the teachers already, for disciplining his child … hard. I was scared because really I think the child’s awesome, and she’s one of a kind, but that’s not enough. Lately, she’s been stuck in the wrong crowd, and because of that mix-up, she’s become more defiant, even when we’re looking out for her best interest. The tears flowed down the child’s face while the father implicitly told me about how angry he gets. She got a pretty good grade in my class, but I know that won’t be good enough for her father.

I had the parent who let her child tell her that she didn’t need to see any more parents, so they ran away from me. Little did they know my Rockports have good traction, and I spoke to the parent about her.

I had the parent who made me realize why her boy’s so whiny. The apple does not fall far from the tree.

I had the parents who I had to use both English (to the father) and Spanish (to the mother) simultaneously, teling her how their child needs to do much better than they’re doing and has the unlimited potential for that. What was more amazing is that one of my graduates from last year, who also failed her first marking period, is getting 90s in math in high school. I was able to tell all of them how even with the lack of success she had in my class, the skills she gets from her 8th grade teachers prepare them for high school, and every graduate from my class that came back to visit can attest to that, and the graduate definitely agreed.

I had the parent of a child who didn’t do very well. She actually sat me down and forgot that I’m a professional. To wit, she actually told me to sit down and gave me directives as to how best to teach her child. Of course, I CYA’d, and said, “OK, let’s do whatever it is we need to do.” She told me to sit her child in the front, told me not to let her go to the bathroom, told me to pick on her more often, told me to let her take her journal, and told me to call her. Will do tomorrow, already doing, have been since Mr. V knows when, already doing, and have done a couple of times with logs on all of this.

I had 55 parents in total, and it was non-stop discussion. I do my best to rotate them in and out, and it relieves the heck out of me when I don’t have to make that many phone calls to parents for at least another 2-3 weeks. Aquarius, signing off …

“Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golding living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revalation
And the mind’s true liberation
Aquarius!
Aquarius!”

jose, who sees the dawning of the age of aquarius …

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