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Note: When I started this article, I was looking to recount my eye-opener of an experience at my 5 year old daughter’s first parent-teacher meeting. It ended up meandering into topics far beyond my original intent. So I’m breaking the article into two for better palatability!

Expect the Unexpected: Surviving My First Parent-Teacher Meeting

back-to-school-1416913-638x433This Monday, I was at my 5-year-old daughter’s public school, McSpedden Elementary in Frisco. This is my first ever parent-teacher meet as a parent, did not know what to expect at all in the slightest and vaguely anticipated a run-of-the-mill activity. Another item to check off my list – or so I thought. We waited a bit for our turn outside the KG class and few minutes later, the teacher called us in after she got done with the parents before us. My wife and I sat ourselves on the kiddie chairs in front of the teacher. I was acutely aware of how small the chair felt and wondered how large or heavier people would fare in the same situation. As I was contemplating this and other random thoughts, as I’m usually wont to, the teacher laid out a folder on the table between us and proceeded to walk us through the first page.

I clearly wasn’t prepared for the barrage of ‘ism’s and stats being spelled out. It took me about a minute or two to realize what was happening and shook myself out of my stupor. I was looking at a page full of graphs, scores and percentile ranks. Each graph corresponded to different skills being tested like reading, comprehension, letter knowledge, phonemic awareness and so on. My brain still churned slowly like molasses. I think I was still in shock that the page corresponded to the progress of a 5 year old……a five year old, in the first month of Kindergarten!!! Somewhere in the fog of my brain, alongside being a bit overwhelmed and bewildered, all I could tell myself was “Impressive”, over and over again. The precision with which the teacher has tracked periodic progress on different aspects of linguistic cognition, noting deficiencies and what was made to correct it send me into a paroxysm of reverence and respect. At this point, I was acutely aware of how low I had set the bar and the teacher was clearing it somewhere in the stratosphere.

This was just the beginning. The teacher proceeded to show some of my daughter’s works and some finer points on how the work was evaluated week over week. At this point, my geek mode had set in and I was listening with rapt attention. She might very well be giving me a TED talk at this point. Next came math. I have some difficulty reproducing the exact terms, but at a high level, math problems were given as word problems and the kids were being taught and evaluated on different aspects critical thinking and approaches being taken to solve the problem. The focus seemed to be on deconstructing and dissecting the guts of the problem and constructing a logical and mathematical path to the solution rather than shortcuts. Each mini-step within this process was evaluated at levels ranging from novice to practitioner and expert. Never in a thousand years would I have used the word ‘Practitioner’ with a five-year old, but it made perfect sense! The fundamentals that get ingrained at this age is going to last a life time. It definitely made the big picture clear with the articulation provided by the teacher.

Its mind-boggling to think about the amount of the work the teacher does on a periodic basis to produce this data-driven picture of where my daughter is in her developmental cycle – multiply the effort with the number of students in the class; that’s worth a mental Iron Man triathlon right there. On top of this, she has games, songs and other infotainment activities going on for the kids. Being a teacher is hard work!!! I’ve always known that the teachers here work hard but clearly I’ve been blissfully unaware of the complexity of the educational system and the degree of hard work done by the teachers!

Part 2: A Totally Off-the-Cuff Comparison of Indian and US Educational System