Should I attend my student's quinceañera?
April 21, 2017 1:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm a highschool teacher. One of my students will be celebrating a large quinceañera in a couple days. I don't know her family, but her parents sent me a formal invitation. The student is really excited to invite me and I'm fairly certain she would feel hurt or disapointed if I don't stop by. I'd like to at least stop by and meet her parents, but I'm uncertain if this is "weird" or overstepping professional boundaries.

Part of why I'm confused is because I've never attended a quinceañera and unsure if this is normal im terms of cultural expectations. I learned a bit about what a quinceañera is during Spanish courses. I know it an extremely important rite of passage and usually large formal, community oriented celebrations. I would not attend a students birthday party but I understand this is different.

The student in question is very bright and mature, and a pleasure to have in class. She looks up to me as a teacher. She does not have a crush on me or has ever crossed any inappropriate boundaries. Again, since I'm largely ignorant of the cultural norms and only met her parents briefly during open house...I'm not sure whether the invitation was out of politeness or if they actually would like me to pay my respects.

Is it professionally inappropriate or socially awkward to meet her family and congratulate them for having raised a superlative daughter? Or should I tactfully decline? If I do attend, (beyond dressing formally), what should I expect/ be aware of? Do I bring a card or small gift? I want to learn more about the culture of my students. Any advice would help me stop overthinking this!
posted by WhitenoisE to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
her parents sent me a formal invitation.

Just my two cents, I don't think they would have done this if they would be uncomfortable with you making an appearance. If they thought it would be strange they probably wouldn't have invited you. If you're worried about it, I'd run it past your principal, since they might have some specific opinion about it.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 2:22 AM on April 21, 2017 [23 favorites]

Please go! Enjoy the experience, and perhaps write a card that will inspire her - tell her what you have told us, that she is a pleasure to teach, that she is bright and mature, and how excited you are for her future. Give her some thoughts and ideas that she can treasure on her journey into adulthood, and consider this a function of your role as a teacher: to not just impart facts, but also wisdom and inspiration. Perhaps you could even tell her it is your first quinceañera, and what a pleasure it is as a teacher when your students are able to teach you something new. By going, you will teach her to be open to new experiences, and to be willing to build new relationships; in return, she will teach you more about her life and her culture.

Because she obviously looks up to you as a teacher, I'm sure that your attendance would be a gesture she will never forget.
posted by matthew.alexander at 2:41 AM on April 21, 2017 [68 favorites]

Speaking here as a Latino, a quinceañera is much more than a birthday party and much closer to a wedding if that helps you to frame it.

Dress code is like being a guest at a wedding. Likewise your only role is to sit there, watch the ritual, be served some food and congratulate her.
posted by vacapinta at 2:49 AM on April 21, 2017 [32 favorites]

Perhaps a close parallel, I invited my favorite teacher to my bar mitzvah. I was grateful that he attended, it made me feel appreciated, and after all these years it's still among the things that stand out in my memory from that process.
posted by roue at 4:19 AM on April 21, 2017 [22 favorites]

I'm a public school teacher and another factor to consider is your state ethics laws about this. For example, I teach in Massachusetts where state employees/teachers can't receive anything valued at $50 or more. If the cost of your attendance (including meal, venue, etc.) is $50 or more, it would be an ethics violation in Massachusetts and one could be terminated.

If that's not an issue, I would still consider the school's culture. It could be fine, it could be really frowned upon because it can raise questions of favoritism and possible grade inflation and potential other nastiness you don't deserve, even some pretty hideous gossip. If you're a male teacher, this is just another datapoint to consider.

In the district where I work, there's no rule about attending our students' events, but it is understood that the only events we should attend are their high school graduation parties, and even then, just to make a brief congratulatory appearance.

Having said all that, personally I would go because I'm a female teacher going to a female student's party and also eff those rules and I love my kids, but it may be too risky for you.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:20 AM on April 21, 2017 [11 favorites]

Remembering things said by the teachers who I respected and valued are memories I have carried with me my entire life. Do not underestimate the impact you can have on a student.

I am very cognizant of how boundaries and ethics can affect that relationship; but damn, if you can be a positive influence, then allow yourself to be one. As others have said, this is not "just a birthday party." It's a significant life milestone, representational of her transition to adulthood (the wedding/bar mitzvah analogies are spot-on). What better time is there to receive well-meant, meaningful words of appreciation and guidance from a strong adult role model she (obviously) respects? I like matthew.alexander's comments very much.

Especially the aspects that relate to your own cultural horizons. I attended a baby shower for a colleague from India and I knew in advance it would be very unlike what I was used to, and I feared sticking out etc. but I was so happy I went. Everyone went out of their way to include, and even joyously educate, those from outside the culture. It was a great experience. I think yours will be too!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:53 AM on April 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I would go and bring an excruciatingly boring and unremarkable token gift, like a book about good college study habits or a Harry Potter bookmark. Aim for "there is not even a mirror universe in which this gift could be misconstrued." I'm talking "7 Habits of Highly Successful People" territory.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:08 AM on April 21, 2017 [12 favorites]

I mention that because I think it is lovely to go, but the default generic gifts for teenage girls (lotion, fancy soap, costume birthstone jewelry, scented candles, etc) would be an extremely extremely bad look for a young popular male teacher to a female high school student.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:20 AM on April 21, 2017 [11 favorites]

I will never forget the two teachers that came and visited me in the hospital when I was around that age. Please go. If there's a way for you to figure out if she invited other teachers, perhaps you can go with another teacher; that could help assuage your worries.
posted by sockermom at 5:31 AM on April 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

Have you asked your principal or other teachers what they think? You should really check with the principal to see if there is any policy in place.

Does the invitation include the option to bring someone with you? If it does and you do decide to go maybe you could ask a woman friend to accompany you so you would look very proper to any conservative members of the girl's family.
posted by mareli at 5:37 AM on April 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

Yes, check in case your school system has an unusually restrictive policy about these (or equivalent events, like attending the wedding of a student). But I've been invited to a bunch of quinceañeras, and at least at the ones I have been to there are always a couple of anglo teachers. If you got an invitation, it is almost certainly for real and they are hoping you will come. It's an event that is all about community, and they are wanting you to be part of that.

It's fun, your attendance will be appreciated, and there is always great food and good music and lots of great conversations. The dress code for the ones I have been to was more to the casual end of things (if you are a man, wear a shirt with buttons and a collar, for example) but I have seen photos of others that were more like weddings with people more dressed up -- this will vary on where you live and the particular family.

Again, just at the ones I have been to, there is always a clear transition after the food and the ceremony and so on to more of a dance party, where the music cranks up and the disco lights turn on -- if you are looking for an easy transition point to leave, that is an easy point to make a departure without being rude. (To reiterate, that is just the ones I have been to, and I know not all follow the same sequence.)
posted by Dip Flash at 6:52 AM on April 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I would decline the invitation if you are still in charge of this person's grades, because you don't want to give the impression that she's receiving favoritism or make other students feel like they need to invite you into their private lives in order to curry favor. You don't have to say this is the reason, you can just say you're unavailable on the day of the event.

Note: If you do write a card/note please do not say that she is "mature" -- this is something that teenage girls hear a lot from older men (like, every single female friend I have was told during her teens that she was "so mature for her age"); it's a phrase that carries a meaning that you may not intend to convey.
posted by melissasaurus at 7:00 AM on April 21, 2017 [10 favorites]

Giftwise,I'd give her your favorite book from when you were 15.
posted by brujita at 7:20 AM on April 21, 2017

Lucky you! Please go.
posted by tristeza at 7:47 AM on April 21, 2017

I think it is awesome that you were invited and I think you should go, but only after:
1. you clear it with your principal and whoever else you think should know.
2. you secure a "date". (You may need to touch base with her parents to establish if that is allowed)

Since you're sure this has nothing to do with her having a crush on you and nothing of that ilk, the only thing you really have to do is make sure no one else thinks that it is. That is why you MUST clear it with your superiors and keep it all very in the open. Maybe mention it to your fellow teachers as well, not as a weird announcement, but more as a general thing that is going on, has anyone else every been invited to a student's quinceañera, is it customary to bring a date, etc. It is a totally fair question since it isn't something you've experienced before, so asking others if they've had something similar happen and how it went is something I'd be doing anyway.

Bringing a date is important for similar reasons as it sends a clear message of "I am here in support of my student and not as a secret boyfriend". Bringing another teacher as your date would be optimal. Also, you may not know many/any people, so having a date is just a reasonable thing to do so that you don't feel super awkward the whole time.

But those two things should be pretty easily addressed, at which point GO!
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:26 AM on April 21, 2017

If you do stick around for the reception, drink SPARINGLY IF AT ALL and keep off the dancefloor if you're rolling solo.
posted by sestaaak at 10:23 AM on April 21, 2017

Mexican here (who didn't have a quinceañera but attended all her friends').
You received a formal invitation, so it's ok to go. People save for years to throw these parties, and they are glad to have a lot of guests.

Invitations in Mexico usually add a card or ticket for each invited person; I don't know if they do that too in the US, but if you got two tickets, you can—and should—bring a date.

A book is a perfect gift, and as mentioned upthread, when the dance floor opens is a good time to leave, but if you are having fun, it's ok to stay and dance for a while.

It would be nice to thank her parents for inviting you, and a perfect time to compliment their daughter in her study habits or intelligence.
posted by clearlydemon at 11:05 AM on April 21, 2017

You should totally go if you want to! My parents are both teachers and have received multiple quince invites, it's not strange at all. I love quinces and I would go to all of them, but if it's not your jam, send a little something -- a card with a heartfelt inscription about her studiousness or a book that you sign would be really nice. Teachers were some of the most important influences on my life.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:38 PM on April 21, 2017

Fellow teacher here and I fourth the suggestion to bring a companion if you can... even if just for your own comfort's sake. I teach elementary school but go to lots of student birthday parties/family events and most of my student are of a different culture than me. Taking my spouse making things less awkward in every way. My go-to gift for elementary schoolers in a fresh box of Crayola markers but that's maybe not a good quince gift. I say write a card, no gift.
posted by raspberrE at 2:36 PM on April 21, 2017

Mrs. 4ster, a teacher, says go and have fun.
posted by 4ster at 5:15 PM on April 21, 2017

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