Monday, November 18, 2019

Translators and Parent-Teacher Interviews

Last week, my school (and many others) held parent-teacher interviews. Often, teacher-librarians use this time to run a book fair. Not me. My role during parent-teacher interviews is the "translator wrangler". Let me explain. Because our school has a high percentage of families that do not speak English at home, we need to employ a large number of translators. We hired five Cantonese/Mandarin translators for Thursday, November 14 and three for Friday November 15 (during the day). With large class sizes, these times during the official parent-teacher interview evening can only be ten minutes long, so that everyone can have a chance to see the home room teacher. If the interview goes overtime, the translator will be late for their next group. This causes an unfortunate domino effect. My task is to escort the translators to their next appointment at the right time and place.

This is a necessary job but not always a pleasant one. I have to cut conversations, end important discussions, and rudely interrupt. Teachers might appreciate my role in the abstract, but more than once last week, my presence was met with a frown and a plea for "just one more minute". Interviews with translators always go more slowly, as it takes twice the time to convey information.

Thank goodness for those translators! Their job is not easy. They briefly meet the educator and the family and then must listen closely, comprehend the main message given by the teacher, translate it (and any complex educational terminology, such as IEP), ensure it is understood by the parent, and then do it back again in reverse order. That's a lot in a ten-minute block. We try our best to take care of our translators by building in breaks, offering them dinner, and scheduling sessions that are close geographically in the building so they don't have to walk too much.

Sometimes I wish there was a better way to arrange these progress report card home-school conversations, with more time to talk, but many possible suggestions come with their own drawbacks, especially when you need to include translators in the equation.

  • Other schools pick a different day other than Thursday night, to avoid the competition for finding translators, but the issue around short times and big topics still applies. 
  • Stretching interviews over multiple days would mean longer times to talk, but factor in sibling coordination and this complicates things, as well as leads to teacher exhaustion with several late nights instead of one, and raises costs for gathering translators for many nights. 
  • Online translators (such as Google Translate) do not always provide an accurate interpretation of messages. 
  • Asking parents to find their own personal interpreters to bring along isn't fair or equitable, especially if some of the information being shared is highly private and personal; parents may not want their work friends or relatives to know all the details of their child's progress in school, even if they can find someone can knows enough English to translate thoroughly. 
One alteration we did try on Friday was to announce the time on the PA system, because sometimes I'd become delayed in checking on all five translators and we would invariably be a bit late. I'll have to check with the teachers to see if the "PA vs personal presence" made a difference.

One positive outcome of this translator escorting - for the first time ever, I hit 25 000 steps on my FitBit!

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