Friday, December 10, 2010

Parent-Teacher Conference

This week we had our first parent teacher conferences in France. Our kids are absolutely amazing...which we already knew. But it is nice to know that their awesomeness is acknowledged cross-culturally.

First, a little background. We have learned that the "norm" in French schools is to correct anything short of perfection, while seldom (or never) affirming anything well done. It is essentially impossible to receive 100% on anything--it may even be illegal to award a student a perfect score. Everything in France is graded out of 20 possible points, and it is quite normal for the majority of a class to receive between 7 and 14 points out of 20 on a test. We were even warned about this trend in our language school, as such scores can be the norm for our classes as well. The reason is that approximately 3 or 4 questions on every test are about information that has NEVER been covered in class and another 3 or 4 questions are about rare and/or random information that may have been referred to casually ONCE in class.

On one of the first math tests that Graham took he earned 10/20, which happened to be the second highest grade in the class. A fact that the teacher then used to shame all of the other students, saying something like, "This young man, who hardly knows any French, has done better than most of you on this test!" Graham would have liked to have vanished.

So you can imagine how impressed we were when Chandler came home with a math test a few weeks ago on which he had earned a score of 19/20. As we looked closer, we noticed that he actually got all of the problems correct. The teacher deducted a point because he neglected to place some parentheses in a section of his work. I realize that in math sometimes the parentheses are essential, but in this instance, that was not the case. Also, even though Chandler earned the highest grade in the class, the only comment that the teacher wrote on the page was a criticism of his handwriting.

Are you beginning to understand what we are dealing with? School has been a tremendous challenge, and I am impressed with the courage, integrity, and perseverance that our boys demonstrate each and everyday. As for their schedules, they spend about 8 hours a week in a class that teaches French as a second language, and the rest of their day integrated into the regular classes. They have math, science, art, music, and p.e. In French. All day.

Since Graham and Chan are in the special "French as a Second Language Class," instead of receiving report cards, we were invited to a parent-teacher conference to hear how our boys were doing in their classes. The conference was in French, of course, but between the two of us, David and I think that we understood everything. The teacher who met with us is the one who teaches their French class.

Basically, the first thing that she told us what that she is required to have these conferences with the parents of her students, but she really does not have anything to say to us. (Translation: there is nothing she needs to correct, chide, or reprimand in our boys; therefore, since the French do not ever speak positively about students, she had nothing to say.) She continued by saying that as of January, she wanted Chandler out of her class. (Translation: Chandler's French has progressed to the point that he no longer needs her class.) Next she told us that in order to ensure that Graham is prepared for the Lycée, she would like to keep him in her class for a few hours each week. (Translation: see the next paragraph, or two, or three. This is going to take a lot of explaining....)

Graham is in troisième, or third grade. In the French system, sixth grade is the same as sixth grade in the U.S., but from there they count DOWN instead of up. Okay, stick with me here, I promise I have a point. The equivalent of Junior High in France is called "Collège" and it goes from sixième (U.S. sixth grade) to troisieme (U.S. ninth grade). The troisième grade is VERY important, because after troisième, a student is either sent to trade school OR to "Lycée", which is the university preparatory track. At the Lycée, students complete deuxième, première, and terminale--which is the U.S. equivalent of sophomore, junior, and senior years. Anyways, during triosième (Graham's current grade level), students must demonstrate a certain aptitude level in either Math or French in order to be selected to go to Lycée.


So. Graham has been worried that he was going to be sent to trade school next year because 1.) He has NO grades in French because he is not in the mainline track for French yet and 2.) His Math grades don't seem all that great to him--even though by French standards they are pretty darn good! One of the challenges in math is that in France students sometimes must write out justifications for their answers (in French, of course) and so even when the boys understand the math and can work the problems, it is very difficult for them to explain how they arrived at the answer.

Okay, now back to the conference. The teacher said that she wanted to keep Graham in her class for a few hours each week so that he is prepared for Lycée. At this point I asked, "Is Graham already selected for Lycée? Because he has been very concerned that he was going to be sent to trade school, based on his grades." She smiled at me, and said, "Tell Graham not to worry. His math teacher and I will get to make the decision, and we both have already agreed that Graham is definitely going to Lycée. But he will need stronger French to survive next year, and that is why I want to keep him in my class a little while longer. Chandler has all of next year to build his French skills to prepare for Lycée, but Graham needs to be ready by the end of this year."

After that, the teacher went on to say that both boys have positive attitudes and that they are serious students. Finally, she asked how long David and I had been studying French, and when we told her that we had just began in September, she complimented us on our progress.

All in all, we left feeling like we have the two most amazing children on the face of the earth. Yes, of course we had to read between the lines. But in France, when a teacher tells you that she has nothing to say to you, I promise you, that is the BEST thing that she could possibly say.


  1. Very nice! Good job, Graham and Chandler!

  2. Wow- what a great conference. SO proud of your boys and so proud of you for getting thru an entire conference in French. Yea you!!! Love ya.

  3. Wow! My cousins can't help but be awesome, even with a language barrier! Give 'em both a high-five!

  4. I am so proud of the boys and not surprised at the reported success! Keep up the good work! Roberta Fuller

  5. I'll never complain at what a hassle parent/teacher conferences can be! Wow! It's gotta be tough on your boys to not only be in a new school but to have to constantly speak, read, and write in French.

  6. So proud of all of you. All these "firsts" must be tremendous hurdles. Just think, by next year you'll all blend in with the finest of compatriotes!