What I will NOT miss about school (now that my daughter has left)

“School’s out for summer” sang the Coop, but “School’s out forever” for some kids, including my daughter, who has finally finished her formal school education. Time then to dwell on those things that I will not miss about school.

It is that day in France when hunreds of thousands of school leavers get their final exam results. My daughter has just passed her shcool leaving diploma with flying colours – she has earned her « passport » to life and also finished her official schooling.

I am a happy dad, flushed with my daughter’s success, but also glad that this chapter of parenthood is over. Never again will I have to attend a parents’ evening and sit listening to a teacher drone on about all my daughter’s faults and imperfections. Never again will I have to suffer other parents, never again will I have to help with maths homework , never again … you know what, I’m kind of missing school already.

So, parent Vs teacher

Ah yes, we have all been there – sitting on those uncomfortable wooden chairs in a dingy classroom that smells of … classrooms – a combination of sweat, pencil shavings, disinfectant and school dinners – that unmistakable school stink that hits your nostrils as soon as you set foot into any establishment destined for the education of the young.

(Yes, what is it about that school smell ?– it reminds me of tinned vegetables.)

So, there you are, with THE TEACHER. Aforementioned teacher looks you over, like running you through a body scanner , peering over their spectacles, taking you in.

« Pleased to meet you Mr and Mrs ; I am Mr/Mrs … your daughter’s …. teacher. »

I don’t think « pleased to meet you » is quite the correct greeting, more a case of « At last, I know what you look like. I was wondering, judging by your offspring’s behaviour in class, if his parents were human at all, but you are obviously human, now I can find out if you are as dumb and objectionable as your offspring. »

For the two of years that I spent teaching in French secondary schools, parents’ evening was both a bane and a highlight – bane, because you had to stay after school – highlight, because you finally get to meet all those who are biologically responsible for that heterogenious, mass that makes up your class.

And so, begins the denigration and assassination of that child you have so lovingly nurtured and now placed under the intellectual guardianship of someone who talks like Steven Hawkin and dresses from a dumpster.

We know all the comments, and we know how it will be from the moment we meet the teacher – the parents of the good kids get a cheery welcome, a beaming smile and a good firm handshake, whereas parents of the bad kids get a limp handshake and an embarassed smirk, as if to say ,« why did you bother having children in the first place ? »

Then comes the litany of « should work harder » right through to this absolute corker from one of my daughter’s former maths teachers : « I don’t understand what your daughter doesn’t understand. »

« She doesn’t understand maths » we retort.

« But what maths doesn’t she understand ? » asks the exasperated teacher

« All maths. »

This is what the French might call « une dialogue de sourds » (literally meaning a dialogue of the deaf) – I think we just politley walked away when our five minutes was up.

I could write a book about this, however time to move on to those other things I will never miss about school.

Perfect Parents

Other parents – OH MY GOD !! – you know the scene – standing round the school gate, listening to other mums and dads lauding their offspring with loud (so everyone can hear) enthused, eloquence– accentless, posh tones that reek of tennis clubs and mixing with all the right people – you don’t want to listen, but you are forced to hear it – their childrens’ achievements, just how intelligent their offspring are –

Listening to the supermums and dads, I was reassured in a way – with every child destined to be a Nobel Prize winner or an astronaut, I thought « oh well, in a few years, these brainy little bastards will be running the country, they might do it decently – no need to worry about the future. »

I wasn’t so much the lyrical waxings given by the parents, it was when they would openly admit that they were working their kids through the program for the year ahead.

« Oh yes, Johnny finds it too easy at school, so I’ve got him private lessons and he’s working through the syllabus for the year above. »

Meaning that every other parent in the class is doing the same with their kids, so they don’t trail behind « Little Johnny » .

So, like all French parents, we packed our daughter off to nursery school at the age of three – not madatory, but 99% of parents do it. The problem is that nursery school ain’t about having fun – doing drawings and rolling round in the sandpit NO, this is where formal class teaching begins, and kids start doing stuff like learning to read and count and …

« Oh Johnny can already read » says Johnny’s super fit, lycra- clad sports mum – so every other mum starts reading with their kids and by the end of the year – they can all bloody read – except our kid of course, and so you get the beckoning inger of the class teacher – « I’m worried about your daughter’s progress, she can’t read yet … »

This is when you want to tell the teacher that the formalised teaching of reading is not actually on the syllabus for the year in hand

« Oh I know, but it’s always good to start them early. » she whispers knowingly.

Ok miss, but you aren’t actually teaching the kids to read, it’s the parents doing all the work !

And of course when Johnny is six, he is already reading Harry Potter in English – I bet he can’t understand it though.

Now, being an English dad, I would talk to my offspring in English when I picked her up from school. It didn’t take long for the supermums to start doing the same.

Yes, I’ll be glad to be shot of other parents  (or is it other parents who should be shot ?)

And what else ?

Homework (AAAAAAAAAAAGH !!!!!!!!)

In French schools there is no specific homework timetable. Kids can sometimes have nothing (very rare) or (as was often the case) come home at 5pm with « a couple of exercises » for the next day – meaning that every teacher they have had in one day, has set work for the next day.

I would personally ban homework – a national law to ban all school work at home after school – any teacher found setting any kind of homework would get a minimum 25 year prison sentence, with no chance of remission.

The limp, high pitch, far off infantile plea …

« Mum …Dad, can you help me with my maths homework »

 (Let’s run and hide)

And we tried to help, but always late into the evening and to no avail and in the end

Well, It is like me in science, however hard I tried at school, I’d always get the same lousy mark as if I’d done nothing at all, so why bother ?

Homework never achieved anything other than filling up the short evenings after a long day at school.

Some experts will say that it is good to give kids something to do at home, so they learn to work regularly on their own. Yeah there is something valid in this, but instead of rote learning or repetitive exercises – in this day and age of Internet, let’s do some research.

As a teacher, to the chagrin of many parents, I stopped giving formal grammar drills and exercises for homework – giving kids exercises means that they get good at doing exercises – So, annoyed were some parents at my unwillingness to give exercises for homework, that they bought their kids grammar books, made them do the exercises at home and then asked me to correct them.

« Can’t you correct them ? » I asked

« We don’t know the answers. »

« So why didn’t you buy the version of the book with answers ? »

In homework terms, the weekends and holidays were always the worst. Teachers figure that the more time you have, the more work you should do … erm what about time to play ? (a few badly-drawn cartoons from 2008).

John King

John King 1

John King 2

And this concludes (so far) what I will not miss about school.

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