by Allison Kutzki
“The key to growth is challenging comfort”
I have always been told that in any aspect of your life, in order to make progress and change, you must constantly be putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. That is ultimately when you are forced to draw on skills you may not have known that you had, and the reflection of such challenges is what helps you grow. Through my Spanish 232, Spanish in the community class I was given the chance to do just this as I was offered the opportunity to translate at parent teacher conferences at Central High School. Although I have worked with native speakers in schools, I had never been put in the position where I actually had to translate concepts and ideas between people from one language to another. What intimidated me even more was the fact that I did not know anyone that I was going to be working with. Essentially, I had to interpret details about a student’s academic performance that I had never met; from a teacher I had never met, and tell a parent I had never met this important information. Needless to say, I was nervous that I was going to feel uncomfortable and also that my language skills would not be sufficient to communicate to the parents exactly what the teacher was trying to communicate.
Upon entering the school, I soon realized just how important what I was about to do actually was. In the guidance office, there was one woman who spoke Spanish who was able to explain the procedure of the conferences to the parents that came in. Other than that, it was just me and a few other translators. Watching the families come in with their students, I slowly began to connect what I had learned in my 232 class to what I was seeing. Many of the parents looked lost, as if they did not know what these conferences were about. They did not know what to expect. In class, we had discussed a lot about some of the hardships and experiences people have coming here from another country, especially when they do not speak the language. Many of these parents may not have had the same educational experiences as their children, and it is possible that they have no idea what conferences entail. It dawned on me just how crucial these meetings and my role in these conferences were.
I met up with my first family, and the lady in the office introduced us. The son spoke Spanish and English, but most of our conversations were done in Spanish. Upon meeting with the teachers, many of them explained to me that the students were bright and had the ability to be successful; however, what many of them were lacking was motivation. As I explained this to the parents, it was almost as if a light went off. I had one mother reiterating to me what I was saying as to make sure that she understood what exactly needed to be done. She began asking her son why he was not doing his work or completing his assignments. I then realized that this was probably the first time that she had ever asked him that, as it was the first time that she even realized that he was having any sort of issues in school. I had three families and the story was all the same. I was able to connect these parents who had been previously oblivious, to the world their children were living in. It is through these types of interactions that the parents can become actively involved in their children’s education.
As I later spoke to the secretary in the office, she explained to me one of the biggest problems is not that parents chose to not be involved, they just do not know how to. Whether it be because they cannot communicate, or because they simply do not understand material, their lack of involvement is due to factors other than care. I could see it in the parents faces when they saw their students grades that they immediately took interest in how they could help their students be more successful. In participating in these conferences, it was made evident to me just how crucial language is, and how a lack of communication due to language skills can be detrimental to students’ education. If parents are not aware of the proper help that their child needs, they those students lack a crucial system of support in being successful in school.
Needless to say, mediating communication between teachers and parents was an extremely rewarding and eye opening experience. Not only through these conferences was I able to practice my language skills in discussing school content material, but I was also able to connect with parents and students on a personal level. I was given the opportunity to talk to these families about their lives, but more importantly I feel as though I became the reason that some of these parents will take a step in encouraging their children to be motivated to do well in school. While translating in such an intimidating setting seemed like a large task to take on, thus far it has been also one of the biggest sources of growth for me as well as immensely gratifying.