Here are my notes from a recent parent-teacher conference at a major, wonderfully serious pressure cooker of a NYC public high school that boasts a teeny tiny acceptance rate. It’s high anxiety time across town as families wait to hear back about their child’s placement.
“The big thing for him is participation.”
“He’s a wonderful writer, so smooth.”
“We want her to do well, to get ready for business presentations. She needs to be ready for business presentations.”
(Baggy jeans can be cinched with a leather belt.)
“We need her to be in the top 20 percent, preferably the top 10.”
Parents standing in the hall.
Riding boots and dosas. Their hands, their fingers worrying their cuticles.
“Is he doing dance? He dances. I know he does. Recently he told me he has stopped dancing but I know. I still hear it. He’s dancing, isn’t he?” This mother is wrapped in swaddling knits, her needles sticking out of her pink Nike bag.
“I’ll needle him about the deadlines. These deadlines right now, these deadlines are everything.”
And blinking, constantly blinking.
And desks are good for clicking your sharp nails.
“I tell him—the vocabulary tests are coming, you just wait. But they never come. So I have to ask you—what’s going on? Why don’t you give vocabulary tests?”
A paper mache dragon hangs from the ceiling. Chalk, dust.
Grade 9 student: “I need my pants to ruffle out a certain way so they don’t show my socks.”
Grade 10 student: “I could never wear a turtleneck. That is not something I could do.”
“She asks me—Mom, can you help me with my English homework? But I say no, I cannot. I only came to this country a few years ago. I cannot speak in this way, what you need. The way that you speak.”
“Fancy shopping bags are also good handbags. You can put all the papers and notes and the folder and some special pack kim chi also in these bags.”
“Kim chi is an excellent way to show your gratitude to your teacher. Parent teacher conferences, like Seoul traffic citations and the holiday season at the office, these things are like that.”
Counting off her accomplishments:
–She’s on the swim team
–She’s is the first
–She is excellent writer
–She placed second on Play-Tech. Second!
“So why is she depressed? You tell me—why is she depressed?!”