Thursday, December 9, 2010

Parent/teacher conferences in Arabia: What they don't teach you in college

I distinctly remember having a few college class sessions about how to conduct a parent/teacher conference and I've applied those lessons in my classroom each time PTC day has rolled around. Professors told me to 1. lead with something positive, even if it's hard to think of 2. have an anecdote or two about the student, it makes the parents feel like you pay attention to their student 3. break the negative news and immediately follow up with how you, the student, and the parents can fix it 4. don't let the parents commandeer the conference with rants and/or verbal threats. Stay cool.

I was running these guidelines through my head as the first of my mothers walked through my classroom door (since we're an Islamic school, the dads can't come to the conferences for their daughters, only the mothers). I went into my schpeal, saying good things, breaking the bad news (which really isn't all that bad), yadda yadda yadda, and I could tell that my first mom had kinda glazed over and was looking at me like, "Why are you still talking?"

I quickly figured out that they just wanted to hear the first bit: "Your daughter is a pleasure to have in my class." Some asked if there were areas for her to improve and I got the typical "That'll change" with an "insh'allah" added at the end. After that they were ready to go. Khalass. Why does this white lady keep telling me stories about my kid? I gots other places to go!

There were a few exceptions, and of course a few awkward moments.

A mother and her two daughters sat down in front of me and I commented, "You all look so much alike, it's like I'm talking to three copies of the same woman!" and the mother laughed and said, "Well, my husband looks a lot like me, so...." (for those who don't know why that's funny/awkward: Arabs marry their cousins, and marrying your first cousin is not as rare as some would like to think. So the gene pools are pretty shallow over here)

A few weeks ago I had a phone conversation with a heavily accented mother who proudly proclaimed "I am not like the other Saudi mothers. I want my daughter to have homework. More homework! Homework just for my daughter, no one else!" She was very passionate about putting her daughter to work...which was ironic because her daughter rarely had homework ready on time.

Anyway, I got to meet that mother face to face, and I found that her message had not changed. This time I was prepared for it when she passionately declared, "I want you to boosh my daughter. Boosh her and boosh her. She needs a boosh every day."

When I first heard this "boosh" word during my phone conversation with this mom, I was slightly taken aback. I wasn't even sure that her request was legal in this country! It took me a few minutes to realize she was saying "Push her" as in "challenge her." There is no "P" sound in Arabic, so Arabs substitute the closest thing they have: the b.

This time, I was more than a little tempted to reply, "I'll be sure to boosh her every day."

All in all, I was very happy to meet the mothers of my girls. I was greatly encouraged by how many of them were happy to have me here and teaching their daughters. I hope I live up to their expectations before this school year is over.

Vicariously yours,

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