Saturday, March 30, 2013

Are Conferences Enough?

I talked with a colleague the other day about her ESL program. We agreed on every issue, but when I was talking to her, I realized that there are some misconceptions about communicating with ESL parents. I am going to highlight what some of these misconceptions are, and I will make some comments on them.

Misconception #1: As long as a school district has interpreters for parent-teacher conferences, it is doing what it needs to do in order to support ESL students and parents. If a parent's first contact with the teacher or school is the conference, they usually arrive bewildered and timid. When I have had contact with them prior to the conference, it usually goes much better and we get a lot more accomplished. Their students also do much better when multiple contacts are made with the parents. Think of everything a mainstream, English-speaking, middle-class family knows about education in the United States. Now, imagine trying to cover all of that information for new arrivals to the United States. Add the time it takes to interpret the information into another language. At most, most children probably get about 60 minutes of conference time a year. It is impossible to transfer all of the information an ESL parent might need during the course of a student's educational career to them even when using a good system for communication. Therefore, limiting communication to what is expressed during conferences is not even close to enough especially when we consider that ESL students are expected to be at par with their mainstream peers in one to five years, depending on the test/state. Most teachers and administrators also expect or hope that their ESL students attend some type of post-secondary institution. Conferences are not nearly enough.

Misconception #2: A good system for communicating to ESL parents is not necessary. Finding random (reluctant) volunteers, bilingual children, or language teachers to help is a good way to communicate with ESL parents. I think you notice the sarcasm in the previous statement. A school district is not going to get the results it wants in terms of academic performance or behavior if it doesn't create a system that works for parents, teachers, and students. It is also not ethical (possibly not legal) for a school district to communicate with ESL parents in a haphazard way. I know it sounds ridiculous, but many school districts do communicate with ESL parents in this manner.

Misconception #3: If a school district puts the same amount of effort toward communication with ESL parents as it does with mainstream parents, it will get the results it wants. Here is a quote from the Intercultural Center for Research in Education (1998):

The activities that schools carry out to promote parental involvement are not addressing theneeds of all parents. For the most part, these activities are appealing to middle class parents,whose educational background, social status and financial resources strengthen their ability tohelp their children succeed in school. Hispanic parents feel alienated from schools and as aresult, they have low attendance at parent meetings, tend to withdraw from participating inparent-teacher conferences and avoid communication with teachers and school administrators. (

There is actually a lot of good in the article I quoted above. If schools want good results, they need to do more. Parents need to feel like they have a say. They need to feel valued.

I hope you like the new format. It is no longer a blogfomercial. I hope you can leave a comment. Challenge me if you feel I am incorrect.

Eric Goodman

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