Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Rite of Passage

The other day I had to partake of one of the great rites of passage for any parent; the teacher-parent interview. Many of the other parenthood obligations pale in the face of this dreaded duty. Choosing a name, midnight feedings, hundreds of diaper changes, being vomited on, all of these are mere child’s play in the face of the first teacher-parent interview. Of course, nothing is ever as dreadful as the fervent mind imagines it will be. But still, what a difficult responsibility it is to have to face your child’s first teacher with all the requisite obligations and possibilities.

After all, nothing can bring your own childhood back to the foreground of your mind than having to face a teacher again. The smell of the class-room, the chalkboard, the posters reminding you of the letters of the alphabet; they all serve to transport you suddenly back to a time of sheer terror. Then you find yourself crushed into one of those little under-sized chairs staring a teacher in the face and you are a child again. No matter how hard you try to look old, to act experienced, it’s just no good. The circumstances make you a child and you are paralysed with inadequacies. Somewhere in your head, you are still an adult worried about the fact that you forgot to put snow tires on your car, but all your grown-up responsibilities are nothing in the face of the teacher’s powerful gaze. You could be a emergency-room doctor who just sewed someone’s finger back on after a bagel cutting accident, but if that teacher tells you to sit down and be quiet, you are suddenly a helpless six year old who will do whatever you are told.

Not that there wasn’t many moments of joy and excitement in your school-days. But somehow they all fade into the background when you find yourself back in the classroom. You don’t want it to be so but there is seemingly nothing you can do about it. And to make matters worse, my daughter’s teacher was suffering through a bad cold, making her voice deep and raspy, and therefore even more authoritative then it might have otherwise been. She is a nice woman, she really is, but as nice as she might be, it is difficult to see her as anything but a teacher. I am quite certain that she could have told me to write “I will not bring gum to parent-teacher night” fifty times on the blackboard and I would have done it.

It didn’t begin very well. When I got to the classroom, the previous parent was still there talking to the teacher so I sat down on one of the very low tables to wait. I didn’t think anything of this. After all, it is a pretty big class and from where I sat I couldn’t hear what was going on between the teacher and the parent. Anyway, how much confidential information is revealed concerning the details of a kindergartener’s school career? But my daughter’s teacher quickly put me in my place. With little ceremony, she asked me to wait in the hall and I was quick to oblige. Then I found myself sitting in the hall for nearly ten minutes with my mind in overdrive. Because, as sure as one is that your child is basically intelligent and well behaved, there is still a part of you that worries what the teacher is going to say.

When I was eventually let into the class and approached the little table that served as a stand-in for the teacher’s desk, my trepidation was by no means eased by the teacher’s first words. “I will just take out Cairo’s file,” she said in her flu-infested voice which made her sound more like John Lee Hooker than a grade-school teacher.

“Take out her file,” I thought to myself. Is she a kindergarten student or an FBI suspect? This really disturbed my equilibrium. Seeing my daughter’s teacher lay her ‘file’ gently on the table like she was J. Edgar Hoover on the hunt for some public enemy really did a number on me. At that moment I don’t think I would have been surprised by anything. She could have told me that my daughter was the class bootlegger and I would have taken it in stride.

But she had no major crimes to report. Instead, she showed me a detailed sheet of student evaluation on the various tasks that my daughter regularly undertakes. And there was nothing negative to report. Not only was my she adequately fulfilling all academic expectations, but she was even exceeding them in a few areas. It seems that she loves drawing and produces unusually colourful and elaborate drawings which seemed to genuinely surprise the teacher.

And after being shown a few dozens drawings and being assured that Cairo is happy at school and plays well with others, I began to feel more at ease. These assurances allayed my biggest concerns because my daughter has always been at home with me and though she has three siblings, her brothers and sister are considerably older than she, which means she has never been compelled to compromise with other children her own age.

After the interview I was sent on my way with my daughter’s school pictures and the teacher’s assurance that all was well. All in all, a pretty favourable outcome given my concerns and fears. Of course, this is only junior kindergarten and there has been little time for things to go wrong. But I am proud to say that I have conquered another of the great rites of passage of parenthood with little more than the loss of a few nights sleep and few difficult childhood flashbacks.

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