Gerry D taps into his past teaching days for comedy
July 24, 2013
July 24, 2013
There’s one parent-teacher night that’s hard for me to forget.
At the time, I taught two kids named Mike, both with similar
last names. One Mike had a 30 percent average and the other had an 85 percent average. It had been a long day. It was the end of a long night of interviews. A couple walked in and sat down in front of me, telling me, in broken English, that they were Mike’s parents. I was feeling a bit nervous. Oh no. Here we go. I’m going to have to tell them their kid is failing. This
is going to be unpleasant. As the interview got under way, it
became clearer that English really was a second language for these parents. They were having a hard time expressing themselves, and I was having a hard time making myself understood. As a teacher, you’re trying to give a generic answer rather than give the cold,
hard truth, so that’s what I did. I wanted to say something like, “Your kid is soooo bad at school that I don’t even know why he bothers coming. Most days, I wish he wouldn’t. He’s got a 30 average and he’s as dumb as a stump. I’m sure this isn’t a surprise to you as he’s probably a chronic underachiever.” Since I wasn’t allowed to say that, I tried to put a positive spin on things. I said, “I’ve noticed some small improvements in Mike.”
Now, Mike had had his appendix taken out and had missed two weeks of school, so I was trying to use his absences as an excuse for his horrible marks: “Maybe his appendix operation had something to do with his low grades. You know, missing two weeks of school can be really difficult for some students, making it hard to catch up.” The parents looked at me, then looked at each other, totally confused. It seemed to me they were struggling to understand my English, so I repeated what I’d said. This time, I yelled, doing that thing where you’re sure that TALKING LOUDER IS GOING TO HELP YOU BE UNDERSTOOD. The parents then exchanged some more words in their native language. They were miming to each other, as if they were trying to locate where in the body the appendix was. I tried to help by pointing vaguely to where I thought the appendix might be, adding a few hand
gestures and saying “app-EN-dix” over and over again. As it turns out, I don’t really know exactly where the appendix is, either, so we were all just kind of gesturing to the stomach area. Mother and father still looked confused. This time, I tried speaking slower to see if they might be able to follow what I was saying. “His appendix,” I said, pointing again to what could be where the appendix is – or the liver, or the spleen, or the stomach. “Mike’s is gone. Removed. Nada. Niente. Out of there. Remember?”
They looked at each other again, and then they said, “We didn’t know. We didn’t know.”
They were totally shocked and horrified by this news, and I was thinking, How in the world can these parents not even know about their own son’s appendectomy? … At this point, I was really eager to get off of this subject because I was getting really upset with what I was hearing. …
I said, “Well, did you know that your son scored only 30 percent as a midterm mark? Do you even understand that this is a problem? That’s really not a good grade!”
“No, no,” the dad pipes up. “Michael do well. Michael always do very well at school.” Now, looking back on this moment, I can see that there was a lot of confusion in the air, and that might have been a moment for me to figure out that my assumptions about these parents weren’t quite right. But hindsight is 20/20, and I didn’t have any at the time.
“No!” I said, getting even angrier now. “Thirty is not a good grade, sir! Sorry.”
At this point, I grabbed my marking sheet and pointed to Mike’s name. “You see? Not good.”
The parents looked where I was pointing, looked at each other, and then said, “Not our Michael.”
Great. More denial. “Pardon?” I said. “Yes, this is your Michael. Your Michael who you need to start parenting better and paying more attention to, I’d say!”
“No. Not our Michael,” the mother said. “We are the diAngelos, not the Vecchios.”
“Ohhhhhh!” I said. “Right! Of course! That Mike. Mike diAngelo . . . Oh, he’s doing very well. He’s doing fine. All good. Not much else to say, really. And he still has his appendix!”
From Gerry Dee’s Teaching: It’s Harder than it Looks. © GerryDee, 2012. Reprinted and adapted by permission of Doubleday Canada. For info on Gerry’s upcoming cross-Canada tour, visit gerrydee.com.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2013.