When Translators are Needed to Get Parents Involved

I am a 5th grade teacher with 33 students. 6 are English language learners. They speak Spanish and Korean. There are other students who come from homes where no English is spoken. I am beginning to schedule

Parent Teacher conferences. More than ever, I have parents requesting that I provide a translator for the conference. (I speak English only.) I've asked our school secretary what the provisions are for translators during conferences. She indicated that there is no money to pay translators. There are some school staff members who speak Spanish and Korean, however they will have gone home when school is out and when conferences begin. Is it the responsibility of the school or the responsibility of the parent to provide a translator? I feel like

I'm spending too much time addressing this problem, when I could be working on report cards!

The school and the principal should help you in this area, but that doesn’t always happen. Still, you need translators if you are going to have a valuable conference with the parents. We need all parents to be partners in education and communication with them needs to be clear.
My suggestion to you is to write a letter in English, Korean, and Spanish and send it home to your students explaining your dilemma. If you have school staff members who can speak these languages, just write the letter and give it to them to translate for you.
In the letter, tell the parents you need their help in finding translators. Perhaps some parents will volunteer for each other, you never know. Ask for volunteers to send you their name, time availability, and contact information. Encourage the families to bring their own translators. Suggest that they consider asking older children, relatives, teenagers, neighbors, co-workers, or friends. If you are all working together, as you should, translators will come forward.
Have a portion at the bottom of your letter for parents to indicate times they choose to come to conferences, and have a space for them to check if they need a translator, can bring a translator, or can volunteer to be a translator.
Once you come up with the letter this year, keep it and use it each conference time. Conferences are already upon us, and you are working on borrowed time here, so make sure to start this process earlier before the next set of conferences in Spring.


Anonymous said...

In regard to today’s column on Translators- I question the feasibility of having parents volunteer to translate for another family's conference. There is a big question of confidentiality. I did work for a few years in the Irvine Unified School District and there were times when a family would bring their own translator - which worked out well. With budgets stretched so tight- it is unrealistic to expect our schools to cover this cost.

Unknown said...

Confidentiality is always a concern, but many families would welcome the help of a neighbor, and that is often what happens in a classroom. If a parent offered to translate, the teacher should pass this offer to other parents, disclosing who the person is, and let the family needing the translator decide if it is preferable. Not all conferences are full of such highly classified information and not all parents are opposed to talking about their child’s progress in front of others. Your point was echoed in a few emails, however, and I think it is wise for teachers to check with all families before bringing in any translator.

Anonymous said...

Let me add my 2 cents regarding today's column. I'm a Spanish interpreter, native from Argentina (moved to the US in 2002). I've been working for a school district in Northern California for 4 years as an interpreter. I was only called when needed and paid by the hour ($26). Three months ago I moved to Irvine, I contacted 3 School Districts: Irvine, Santa Ana and Tustin, trying to see if I could get a similar job. The response I got from the 3 districts was "Go online to edjoin.org", where, of course, there is no position available as interpreter. I just wanted an "on a need basis" job and no one listened, they just gave me the same answer at the 3 districts.
I love your column.

Unknown said...

As the first reader suggested, school districts are having trouble affording translators. In a classroom with 14 children who might need a translator, that usually means at least 7 hours of translating. This is just one classroom. If one classroom at a school needs this many translators, then the school population probably resembles this need and you could multiply that number by as many as 10-20. Multiply that again by $26 an hour, and it is expensive. School districts rely on a few individuals when important meetings arise, but they rarely list these positions because there is not any funding. It is still a necessary role you fill. Good luck in your search for a position.

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