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My title today says “We’re on strike!” but it’s not really true, at least not for me. Sadly, I really have nothing to go on strike about just yet, except possibly laundry. And even if I did go on strike from the laundry, I‘m not sure anyone would notice–I‘m behind as it is.
You might think that you need a job in order to go on strike, but the year that we were in France, the unemployed went on strike to protest a cut in their benefits, and they marched in the streets. So I could go on strike if I wanted to. Just for a day.
No, it’s the teachers at the kids’ school who are on strike. Not all of them, of course. Teachers join individual unions, so on any given day your kid may or may not have school. Strikes usually last just one day, for teachers at least. (The unemployed struck for much longer, bringing France to its knees…no just kidding) Now that the kids are in junior high, they of course have several teachers, and today they came home for lunch announcing that they’d only had 1 or 2 classes this morning.  Elliot’s parent-teacher meeting for tonight has been moved to next week. French-style strikes being what they are, this was announced last week.
I’m glad, because I am still recovering from the twins’ parent-teachers meetings last night. These are done en masse; all the parents meet the teacher or teachers. The meeting was supposed to start at 5:30, but the kids didn’t get out of school until 5:15. We put them in a taxi, handed them money and keys, sent them home, then headed back onto the school grounds. (Yes, having older kids is great)
We joined the file going into the school. We saw the principal, and received the good news that the twins get a locker! (There are more students than lockers available, so we had to request it.) We missed what room we were supposed to go to, since Donn was worrying that instead of casier (locker), the principal had said caissier (cashier), and that we owed money again, and I was thinking about how long it takes my brain to switch into French after just an hour at home, blogging and speaking in English. So when a friendly mom asked me which sixieme (Grade 6) class I would be visiting, and then which room that was in, I had no idea. We had to go back up to the principal.
That formed a bond. It turned out that she has a son in Ilsa’s class. I left Donn to visit Abel’s class, and went off with my new friend. Turned out we had plenty of time to get to know each other, since the meeting was nearly half an hour late getting started. I thought that was a bit thick, considering that our children risk detention if they arrive even one minute after the gates have closed.
This woman earned my undying friendship for chatting away with me for 20 minutes before suddenly saying, “Wait–are you American?” Usually people say that within 20 seconds. We went into the classroom, and Ilsa’s professeur principal (homeroom teacher) came and nattered on and on about classroom behaviour and not being late and report cards after each trimester and other things. Then, he left, and we were treated to a parade of teachers. They pranced in, announced who they were, what they taught, what our children in general were doing wrong, and called for questions. It was most illuminating.
I know that Ilsa is a little afraid of her technology teacher and her French teacher, and after seeing these formidable women, and hearing their high standards for perfection of every tiny accent mark and every tiny square grid on the graph paper, I could understand it. In fact, I ducked my head reflexively every time they glanced in my direction. I didn’t want to be called on!
I don’t ask questions during these parent-teacher meetings. Donn told me later he asked just one, about half-way through: “Is this all going to be in FRENCH?” It’s like they have a different word for EVERYTHING, he told me later. (That’s a Steve Martin quote.)
There’s always one parent who asks questions non-stop. In Mauritania, it was always either a tall man in a suit or a large woman in African print. This year, conversely, it was a small-boned woman who had just spent a couple of years in Italy and needed reassuring. We were all relieved to learn that her son participates just fine in English class.
It dragged on and on. The math teacher was unintelligible; he ducked his head and mumbled, like we scared him. For me, at least, the opposite is true. One thing about adulthood that I was looking forward to was not being scared of teachers anymore but I find that, sadly, I still am, a bit.
We were eventually released at 7:35, 2 hours after starting time. I left in a hurry and didn’t get my new friend’s phone number, but I’ll look for her outside the school.

October 2008

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