How NOT To Communicate With Parents

Mary Ann Zehr at Education Week has just written a post titled A 5th Grader Is a Translator at School. Is That a Good Thing?

It describes an Oklahoma newspaper article about how wonderful it is that a local school is using a Spanish-speaking fifth-grader to translate to parents. Mary Ann asks for reactions.

Here’s the comment I left:

Mary Ann,

This is terrible! Not only is the school using a student to get out of putting the appropriate resources into having the ability to communicate with parents, it’s putting both the child and the parents in an embarrassing and potentially damaging situation. It forces children to act much older than they actually are. The New York Times ran a story on this issue:

URBAN TACTICS; Translating for Parents Means Growing Up Fast


I could understand it if there were just one or two parents who spoke a particular language (for example, one year we had a student and family who only spoke Swahili). But SPANISH? In a state that has over eleven percent of its students being Latino?

4 thoughts on “How NOT To Communicate With Parents

  1. We are required to use a BIL certified teacher to translate, in a pinch we can use the clerk from the front office or our social worker. Use a student, even for their own parents, for conversations about education is not allowed.

    We are careful about using even HS aged siblings for other languages not spoken by an adult on our campus, because we found in one family information was not being translated correctly. THe language barrier was allowing the kids to run wild. The district has improved the system for getting a translator for planned meetings. We use phones for unplanned meetings, and hopefully will move to Skype to make the conversation easier in the near future.

    I have had students who speak Spanish help out lost parents in the halls.

    When we have student greeters for events, we always have kids who speak Spanish in the group. We also have bilingual TV newscasters, because we are a dual language school.

    I followed the links back to the original story. It sounded to me like they might have been pulling her out of class to translate – robbing her of part of her education because they were lazy and didn’t want to hire someone who speaks Spanish. Outragous

  2. This year I had a parent-teacher interview (Americans call them conferences I think) with Chinese speaking parents of one of my students. We don’t normally have students sit in on the interviews, but it’s not disallowed. This particular interview was with the parents and their son. These parents could not speak a word of English and their son, whose English was not the best either, translated for us. It was very uncomfortable. In this situation a translator would have been much better.

  3. skorlaki1983,
    Are there teachers at a nearby school that speak Chinese? Next time could you set up a skype call or something similar so that teacher can translate but still be bound by privacy rules?

    We had a similar situation, and the kids involved were hell raisers. Turned out the older teens who were translating were lying to both their parents and the teachers about what was happening. That family is one reason our administration has made sure we can get hold of a translator in district if a teacher on campus doesn’t speak the language.

  4. We normally communicate with the parents of our Asian students through their agents (an English speaking “guardian” paid by the parents) because most of our Asian students are boarders and their families are still in China/Hong Kong. It is much easier this way. It is very rare that we have a parent who speaks little English and wants an interview with us, but we have used others to translate in the past. I just don’t think it’s appropriate to use students as translators. I probably should point out that I’m not an ESL/ELT teacher, and the interview I was referring to was about Science class.

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