Monday night found me sitting once more at a desk listening to my child’s teachers tell me things while my eyes glazed over. This time it was for Elliot, Class 3 Grade 8. (There are 6 classes per grade level) I arrived a teensy bit late, found Salle 9, smiled apologetically round the room. Up front, a math teacher was mumbling about something. He read quietly and rapidly from a sheet in front of him, making no eye contact with the group of parents. Young, dark-haired, and fumbling with his collar, he looked nervous. His fears were justified, as a mother in a tight turquoise sweater who arrived later than me had lots of questions.

The professeur mentioned the January parent-teacher meetings, which are one on one about specific students rather than the class as a whole. Up popped Turquoise Mother’s hand. “Do you really get to know our children?” she demanded. “Last year at the January meetings, one of the professors had to look at a photo to make sure which child we were talking about!” She sat back, as if glaringly requesting that he defend THAT.

The teacher fumbled with his collar, turned a light pink, and mumbled something about how maybe it was the art teacher and they only have art an hour a week and 30 students a class so it can be hard to get to know everyone… Turquoise Woman cut him off. “I’m sure it was the French or Math teacher!” (They have those subjects 5 hours a week)

I refrained from pointing out that she had only 13 teachers to remember, so couldn’t really fault this mythical teacher who couldn’t place one of 180. I don’t talk at these things. Other parents raise their hands, ask questions with wild abandon, but me, I slouch down, not making eye contact so I’m not called on. I have lost none of the skills acquired so painfully in junior high. And while it’s doubtful that they would call on me, given the nature of these meetings, I just like to be sure.

Also I didn’t really believe Turquoise Woman. I am quite sure that any child with a mother like that is well known throughout the school. I myself am well known, but not for my obnoxiousness—no, it’s my accent that sets me apart. In a school where Yassin is Moroccan but spent 5 years in Korea and Diego is Spanish but spent 4 years in New York and Amir is half-Moroccan, half-Norwegian, we still manage to be exotic. We’re the only Americans in the entire school, and everyone knows who we are.

Then began the parade of teachers. The French teacher glared round, bestowed a thin-lipped smile upon us, and announced that this year she was expecting the homework to be profound, not superficial. I’m transliterating a bit, but you get the point. Turquoise Mother asked a question about the brevet, which is this big test they take at the end of Grade 9 in order to get into high school. “Give them a break!” I thought quietly to myself in English. One thing I don’t like about the French system is its extreme hours, its week-long tests for 14 year olds, the stress and seriousness put on young kids. Next year is soon enough to worry about the brevet in my opinion. But I was in the minority; everyone was nodding.

The technology teacher, a short woman as broad as she is wide, told us they ALWAYS have homework. Always. She glared round as if daring us to say they didn’t. I carefully kept my gaze middle-distance and sort of frozen.

It was at this point that I began to be a little stressed. Was I in the right room? Didn’t Elliot have a male technology teacher? I thought he’d referred to him with the masculine pronoun. And was the math teacher his prof principal (homeroom teacher) or was it the PE teacher? Perhaps I was in the wrong salle, meeting teachers from classe 2 or 4. I debated asking the woman in front of me, or even Turquoise Mom behind me, but in the end decided to just sit it out. It got worse—the English teacher was not Elliot’s English teacher! The Arabic teacher was wrong too. But then Physics/Chemistry teacher said, was this Classe 3? And everyone nodded, and I relaxed. After that, Elliot’s English teacher came in. So it all worked out.

The PE teacher said they get to do rock-climbing soon. Up shot Turquoise Mother’s hand. Were the children SAFE? Because she couldn’t imagine that they could be safe. We all turned around at that point, reassuring her. I even joined in, although I contented myself with smiling and nodding, adding sotto voce, that they “have a belt (ceinture)” and then being quiet again. I don’t mind talking to people, but hate to show off my funny accent in front of a group. “Well I can only hope the school will take responsibility if there’s an accident!” she announced, making the bad-smell-under-nose face that we were all coming to know and love.

The music teacher announced that they would be doing “humanistic music” this year. With recorders? I have no idea what she meant. It’s possible she was talking about something else entirely, as by that point my eyes were glazing over.

TM’s hand was in the air again when the math teacher returned, this time as the math teacher rather than the homeroom teacher. Were children allowed to use calculators? Surely not! Many parents spoke up at this point. Everyone agreed with TM. Children should not use calculators, or they would end up unable to do math. The teacher, happy to agree with them for once, announced that they’re not allowed to use them on exams but can check their homework on them. “But the children are using them to DO their homework!” announced TM.

I was tempted to put my hand up and say, in a thick accent and bad French, that I was managing just fine without the ability to do simple math in my head, but I thought it might not come across exactly in a way to prove the use of calculators. I was not really tempted to point out to TM that surely it was HER responsibility to make sure her child did his or her homework, rather than the teacher’s. By this point I was slouching down and avoiding her eye as well!

The math teacher muttered on, with me catching one word out of 10. Elliot told me later that he doesn’t usually mumble and that he’s the nicest math teacher. “Maybe he was nervous?” he suggested. Maybe, I agreed.

I know I was.

And, somehow, I have agreed to join this merry band of teachers. Sort of. I am going to do an English Club, for 8th and 9th graders only, once a week during lunch time. I am petrified, but please don’t tell THEM. Elliot assures me they will not mock me in French slang, which I don’t follow. (you should see it written. It’s like txt spch but in French) But is he right? I am very open to suggestions for keeping them amused. And I will permit the use of calculators.

*This is what the math teacher said, I swear