This past week I stayed late at school two nights on the trot to attend our school’s Back To School Evenings. Universally dreaded by teachers across the globe, this evening is mostly about introducing yourself, showing off your unusually neat classroom, and dodging specific questions from parents about how their child is doing. As a librarian, I rarely have to do anything except be introduced and maybe sit in the library for the three parents who wander in to have a look. This time it was a little different-the lower school has adopted an online portfolio system that has an app where parents can get connected to see their kid’s thoughts on the work they are doing and to see generally what is going on in the classroom. It was important to try to get all the parents to actually sign up and connected to their children as newsletters and other important information will be pushed out through this app. I am a member of the school’s tech department, so I volunteered to sit in the gym and help parents get the app and connect to their kids. I did not understand what I was signing up for.
After the bit in the classroom, so about half an hour into the evening, we were suddenly flooded with parents. And I am no longer living in England, where people would have stood in a more or less orderly queue and waited their turn. This was a scrum of unbelievable proportion, with parents crowing around, coming behind the table to tap me on the shoulder as I was helping other people, not able to see (and therefor follow) the signs with instructions on how to download the app, etc. Every parent had to see one of us, who would look up their child or children on our computer and then scan a unique QR code to connect their accounts. Halfway through the night I told my tech director that I was sweating pretty badly. He said “oh, you get used to the humidity” and I had to explain that it was stress sweat. He said “haven’t you ever worked in a restaurant? This is exactly like that.” No, no I have not ever worked in a restaurant because I would be terrible at it and super anxious all the time that I am keeping people waiting. Anyway, at the end of the night when I stood up I had a nice apron of sweat that had soaked through on my lap. Delightful.
One of the things that made these parental encounters particularly stressful is naming conventions here. Most of the Asian kids we have have a formal, given name and also a nickname that they actually go by. This may or may not be an English name (like George) or in English (like Dimple). Asian kids who are not Burmese may also have what they call their “Myanmar Name” which is a traditionally Burmese name added into the mix. Our various school computer systems are not great at recording all of these names in a predictable manner, or being consistent about how the child is named. So parents would come to me and tell me their child’s name is George and I would say “I can’t find a George, does he have another name?” and then try to look for that. The problem is that the Burmese language has no official way of translating itself into a Latin script, so parents often do not know how to spell their child’s name in English which makes the whole process very tricky and sweat-inducing.
No one explained this to me at all when I arrived, and maybe it is totally obvious to people who have worked in Asia for a while but it took me a week or so to catch on. I was unconsciously using my old librarian trick of asking kids to “remind me what your last name is?” when I checked out books to them. (Hopefully making kids think you remember their first name, but need their last name for “the computer system.”) Kids were looking at me sort of blankly. I tried “family name? Surname?” Still confused looks. This is because there is no such thing as a surname really here. Kids will get a name from one of their parents as part of their name, but it is not a “last name” like I am used to thinking about it. I wish someone would have explained that before I was secretly judging everyone for not even knowing how to spell their last name.
The secondary school Back To School Night was much less stressful, although the principal did make all three of the tech integrationists come up in front of all the parents to be introduced. About a third of the audience whipped out their phones and took pictures of us. It was like Parent Paparazzi, very odd.
After the two late nights, I just needed some time to chill on our nice balcony. So one evening I was sitting up there with Gav as the sun went down and all of a sudden Gav said “is that guy wearing any pants?” Our neighbour across the street (who has a tendency to open his doors on a nice evening and pace around, yelling into his mobile phone) had his back to us and it did LOOK like he might be nude on the bottom. But I also thought, maybe we are seeing an optical illusion that makes us think we are seeing his buttcrack? Surely he is not wearing a tshirt and nothing else. So we kept an eagle eye on him until he turned around so we could judge properly. Sure enough, when he finally paced in our direction we got the Full Monty. We have observed him in Shouty Mobile Use mode since, but he has so far kept himself clothed. We are keeping our eyes open though, very entertaining.
I would love to tell you that the image above is Gavin checking for nudity, but alas it is just him birdwatching before school. At least that’s what he told me I had to say.