17 September, 2007

Relieved and happy

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know that my introduction to the German school system was not a positive experience. The principal was arrogant and inflexible, the teacher(s) screamed at the class and the situation on the playground was chaotic.

This was a double whammy-- we'd just left an excellent school in Flanders and on top of that S had a lot of catching up to do because of the new language. The school system here works fine as long as the students are of average ability, but as soon as they drift toward either end of the spectrum or need extra attention they fall through the cracks.

(Case in point: there's a boy this year who's repeating first grade for the third time. This kid is almost 10 years old and is expected to spend another year among 6 year olds! To me that seems inhumane and unjustifiable!)

In our elementary school status-quo seems to be the ultimate goal: Cookie cutter children who use uniform book covers and who are taught not to think outside of the box. Creativity is considered undesirable and is only encouraged within the very strict confines of a weekly art class.

Last year S's teacher was so aggressive that I was afraid that he might lose that spark that keeps him inquisitive about life around him.

But somehow he held on. Through sheer determination, hard work, and a god-given talent for languages, S not only caught up, but even excelled in this harsh atmosphere. The first few months were arduous, but we worked together and in the end he won a prize for reading more (German!) books than anyone else in his class.

This summer I tried in vain not to worry about who the boys would get as a teacher. This is doubly important since they keep the same teacher for two years-- I had to force myself to stop envisioning scenarios in which we repeated difficult experiences from last year!

Of course the situation is different now-- B's German is completely fluent and he is entering school with some other children from his kindergarten, which makes the transition easier.

But they are so small and vulnerable and I get a knot in my throat thinking about what it must be like to be screamed at by your teacher. To be humiliated in front of the class. S went through it and somehow came out stronger. B would probably survive as well, but really, is it normal for a parent to have to hope that her child will receive a humane introduction into the lifelong quest for learning?!

LUCKILY B's teacher seems great. She's young and motivated and warm. When she met B she asked if he was nervous, and when he admitted he was she said: "Me too."

And I've actually got a lump in my throat as I'm typing this, because isn't that what first graders need? A little bit of kindness? It's unfortunate that it seems to be such a rare occurrence, but that also makes it that much more precious...


anno said...

Warmth and empathy are a promising start. I hope there's a wonderful year ahead for all of you.

(Are those flowers your son is holding for his teacher? An art project? Whatever it is, it is amazing!)

Africakid said...

I'm so glad B. got the teacher he did! There's enough to deal with in school at that age, without having to fear the teacher too...

Wow. So impressive, the way your two boys have both made the transition!

Anonymous said...

You keep the same teacher for 2 years? In my part of Germany, you keep the same teacher for 4 years!

Betsy said...

Hi Anno! Thanks, that thing he's holding is a Schultütte. It's a large cone filled with goodies which is given to the first graders to celebrate the first day of school. I made it with the help of a kit- have to admit I swore a lot while I was doing it because I'm not very crafty, but I'm happy with the way it turned out. :-)

Hi Laurie! You and me both! (Happy about B's teacher.)

S's teacher is great too-- and it's really important for him because she'll ultimately be the one who decides if he goes to Gymnasium or Realschule. I've heard from other parents whose older children have had her that she's compassionate and enthusiastic.

I am just so relieved to know that they're both in good hands!

Betsy said...

anonymous: FOUR YEARS!!! I can imagine that this would be a good thing if you've got a great teacher, but there are so many bad ones out there!

The schools here (at least in BW) are set up so that even teachers whose students underperform year after year cannot be fired. They pass on whole classes of kids who are unprepared for the next grade and no one seems to be able to do anything about it!

That, and I've got a friend whose second grade son has a teacher who's been labeled by several other parents I know as "inhumane". This woman apparently admitted in the parents' evening that she's all for corporal punishment and would rather hit students who misbehave but unfortunately can't since it's against school policy.

And I realize that this sounds like melodramatic fear mongering, but these are just a couple of concrete examples I know of from our school.

As a parent I've often felt helpless and hopeless when confronted with the bizarre authoritarian atmosphere here.

I'm just relieved that we seem to have gotten lucky this year and don't have to start worrying for another two years...

Jen said...

I'm glad she's young and warm. And good for S for handling it, and I'm so glad that he has a good teacher NOW when that next transition will be so important. The German system does seem to produce uniformity above everything else. It's why they don't allow homeschooling. I loved the picture. And I can relate to the feeling of relief! So glad it's an easier start!

christina said...

Awww, how sweet! I'm SO glad he's got what sounds like a reasonable, caring teacher. It makes all the difference. Our kids had the same teachers for four years as well. One was really strict and yelled a lot and the other was totally wishy washy and should have yelled a little more. But everyone survived in one piece. :-)

And just look at that Schultüte! It's gorgeous - you did a fantastic job. I bet he was so proud.

Betsy said...

Thanks Jen and Christina! He's nearing the end of his first week and it's going really well. Again, big sigh!

Oops! I'm only just realizing that I've been spelling Schultüte wrong all this time! I suppose I should have known-- it isn't exactly a "school bag", but what is a Tüte anyway? I can't find it in my dictionaries-- am assuming it's an old word for cone or horn?

Goofball said...

well that is such good news...

schools are so important for children, they spend a lot of time there and they need to get stimulated rather than disappointed!