Of course, I said, "Sure, I'll call today!"
During my planning period, I went through the many steps it takes to call parents who speak a language at home other than English or Spanish. I called our language line, informed the translator the purpose of the meeting so she could leave a voicemail if the parent didn't pick up the phone, and called the phone numbers listed in our student information system. Luckily, one parent picked up the phone, and we were able to schedule a conference for 1:30 this afternoon.
When the parent came in for the conference, I was relieved to find that they had brought a friend along to translate. Having a translator face to face is much more comfortable than using a translator via phone, (though that is a service for which I am very grateful).
When I have parent conferences in which my students and their families speak Spanish, I can usually get by listening to only the Spanish and asking clarifying questions as necessary so that I can respond in English. My ears understand Spanish, but my brain can't recall vocabulary words efficiently enough for me to speak it. This situation, however, was nothing like that. The language this family used doesn't share an alphabet with English. There are no common root words, no cognates to rely on. I don't even have concept of word in this language. A flood of unfamiliar sounds washed over me as the parent and friend spoke back and forth about what to ask me.
I should mention here that I don't actually teach this student. The student is only in my TA class, which meets briefly every morning and for a little longer on Mondays. I am a friendly face for this student, but really not much more. I don't know much about the student's academic performance. I know some interests and I know the student's favorite flavor of donut. I was beginning to feel like I should have waited to schedule the conference until more of the student's teachers could attend.
I pulled up the student's grades on our student information system and went through the missing assignments, low test and quiz scores, and generally worrying indicators of classroom performance. Even as a native English speaker, I was confused about what was going on with this student's academics. The online gradebook wasn't providing much information, and looking further into our learning management system and the student's binder wasn't turning up much more information. I was sure that I wasn't being helpful at all to these parents, and I was building a new, concerning narrative of this student's experience at my school, a place where I normally feel like we truly do our best to meet every student's needs. I could tell that on a day to day basis, this student feels as lost as I felt during the hour I spent in the conference today.
There are so many barriers to this student's success: language, technology, a shy personality. The student needs an adult in our building who can understand those barriers and start chipping away at them. I have to do a better job at being that adult.