Friday, December 17, 2010

Mesa Messenger from afar

While reading the most recent online newsletter from Kadin’s elementary school in Boulder I was struck by how the principle chose to emphasize two programs: first, their “positive behavior support” program where students are rewarded for good behavior (instead of just being punished for bad behavior), and second, the focus on developing a student’s “voice” or personal style in their writing, something they will be evaluated on. Both of these things—the only two items on his agenda—are totally and utterly foreign to the system in France!

Teachers in the kid’s schools here seem to be on the lookout only for bad behavior. Kadin came home the other day and said his class was “bavarding” so much that the teacher threatened to call the police. Wow. And in the states, his teachers think raising their voice is going too far... From what I gather, yelling is pretty much the norm here. I too once thought yelling was inevitable until I saw more skilled classroom management in action. It's pretty amazing, and pretty effective.

And I went to a parent teacher conference at Rees’s school the other day. We were walking down a corridor mostly reserved for teachers. Rees was nervous, but I told him it was okay because he was with me. Then we got lost, couldn’t find the room, and walked down that corridor several more times. On about the third time through, for some reason, Rees—who must have been pretty bored at that point—got it into his head that it would be fun to slide on his back on his fleece hoodie on the polished floor. I asked him what he was doing and told him that the floor was dirty, it was where people put their feet (and we all know those feet were on the sidewalk and we also know what is on the sidewalk in abundance here in France…), but he didn’t seem to care about that, so I just ignored him (didn’t think it was so bad, just gross) and walked a few steps ahead, knowing the moment would pass (as soon as we hit the carpet).

Just then, a teacher came out into the corridor, saw Rees, and immediately marched over with a loud, accusing, “Ce qu'il se passe ici?!” In faltering French I reply something like, “C’est mon fils,” “That is my son.” And she accepted that and the matter was dropped. I got the feeling this “Ce qu'il se passe!” is the first order of business around here. Accusations first, explanations later. It's the kind of environment where everyone is focused on the bad and aberrant, where no one would be caught being good.

Still don’t know what inspired Rees’s strange behavior—there was a high, four-story sky-lit ceiling he could look up at when he was on his back—but he said I was like his armor. I did kind of sense he was pushing at the limits he felt all around him. Still, it was not my proudest moment to admit to that teacher he was my son! But we love him.

And in French school, it is hard to imagine a standard evaluation based on “voice” or personal expression. Ha! The criteria are much more structured and the value is placed on fitting in. Even using “I” in an essay is discouraged. And in handwriting too, there is no idea that everyone might develop a personal style. The emphasis instead is on one proper form to strive to achieve. And there is no acknowledgement of differences in learning style or ways of learning. It really is sink or swim (we won’t even talk about the swimming classes I've heard stories of where this is literally true…but at least the state funds swimming lessons for all…).

So I was overjoyed to learn that the child in Kadin’s class who is the “problem” kid, the one always being disciplined, was the one who excelled at the “cross” (inter-school track meet) and won the whole thing for his class. First place in the whole city for running. Gosh, could there be a connection???

Then Carina told me about an email thread/discussion she received via the parent organization at the elementary school. Apparently, in the German section of the school, a girl was assaulted by a teacher who lost her temper and pulled the girl’s hair. The parent (who I believe was German) asked the parent association what she could do. The advice from the other parents? Keep quiet because if she complains about the assault, the teacher could file a civil suit against her. The parent then asked what she could do to protect her child. The answer: not much.

Looks like another case of worker’s rights gone too far! Since I had heard this story third hand, I asked the head of the American School (Rees’s school) about it and she confirmed that this could well be the case. Unfortunately, there truly was a chance of the parent being sued by the teacher if the parent complained about the assault.

So we’re gaining some good perspective and won’t be taking the positive programs for discipline and creative expression in the Boulder schools for granted!

1 comment:

George Swain said...

Wow - I can't believe it's coming to a close. What an adventure you've all had! I'm so jealous and can't wait to spend time reliving the choice moments with you all when you visit. Traveling is one way to gain a global perspective, but actually living and attending school in a foreign country is a priceless learning experience for the kids (if they don't die in the process!) I've loved reading your commentary. As you know, I've also spent some time reflecting on what we take for granted this year. Change sure can make you appreciate what you have!