Sep 182012

Last night was back to school night for the upper grades at Hogwarts (DD’s class).  They call it a “Parents/Teachers Meeting” and it is definitely something that must be experienced to comprehend.  There is a second one this evening for the younger grades (DS’s class). but I am not sure we have the stamina to attend two such events in one week!  Luckily, it is probably not necessary.  Since the school is small most of the teachers teach most of the students.

The event is structured differently than similar ones I have attended in the US.  Instead of having parents move to the teachers, the teachers come around to different classrooms and present themselves to the parents.  So, basically you have a parade of different teachers coming through and introducing themselves to various classrooms full of parents.  From the teacher standpoint it must feel like a Judging Gauntlet.

We are all grouped by which class level our children are in.  I imagine this causes havoc with parents who have kids in multiple levels, but, again, it is a small school so presumably the information will get out… Also, these parents are pushy!  Not in a bad way, mind you.  But, figure Hogwarts families are not exactly the usual stay-home and go-with-the-flow sorts who populate the majority of the planet.  These are people who have 1) chosen to live in a foreign country and/or 2) chosen to send their children to a school that specifically caters to an international crowd.  This is not a population prone to Shy Wallflower Syndrome.  These folks know what is important to them and are willing to speak out to get it.  The group dynamics are fascinating to watch.

This year there are a lot of new teachers in the Hogwarts faculty.  What are they like?  Well, some are pretty typical teachery-types- professional educators like you might find at any school.  But, interestingly enough, a lot of them are a little different.  They truly do seem like people who might be cast as Hogwarts instructors.  You can practically see the floo powder still in their hair!

The upper-grade History/Geography teacher is what DD terms “not exactly a great teacher, but very, very interesting“.  He is an aging, auburn-haired Francophone with a slightly-forward-leaning carriage.  His spiky hair should long-since have gone grey if the crags in his face are to be believed, but I detect nothing bottle-died about it.  On the other hand, it is not entirely natural-looking either, having fascinating variegations and speckles.  DD says he has the unfortunate habit of pacing the room with his hands behind his back and perching above students to observe their work.  Her first impression was “vampire”, but I think he is  more bird-like with a quick, questioning eye, sharp nose and angular features.  Perhaps a carrion-bird of some kind, or one of the larger birds of prey- definitely something large enough not to be easily startled.  I am going to settle on Buzzard for now, but not in the ideological sense. Last year she had the Ghost Teacher for Geography, so a likely-animagus is an improvement. 

He seems to be a self-assured master of his subject matter and according to DD makes the attempt to ensure that his students are getting the information they need.  However, the poor gentleman has the misfortune of teaching two of the classes that are this year designated to be taught in the students’ second language (L2)- French.  For students who have lived in Strasbourg for a while and/or attended Hogwarts since the beginning, this is not much of an issue.  Their French is up to the task.  But, for students like DD and several others who came in late, the fact that they have several classes in a language that is still a challenge is, well, challenging!  One recently adopted dad started up the conversation about what was being done to get the late-comers up to level on the French, and 1/2 the room piled on.  Mr. Buzzard did his best to deflect imperiously, but he was standing right in the line of fire with no real answer other than “this is how it is done”.  In the end, a more diplomatic father suggested that perhaps learning support for French was something that the Home Teacher could address instead of the man whose job it was to teach Human Sciences, and the parents let the regal bird depart, feathers in tact.

(Edit: I just remembered who he reminds me of!  Uncle Deadly!!! Only, you know, Redder)

     The new Technomancy Teacher is somewhat simian in presentation, with cropped dark hair, thick eye brows, and long, hair-covered arms. So, for the purposes of the blog I will imagine that he is, indeed, a full-blown were-ape.  But, he is also awesome!  He has a rich, thickly French accented baritone, but claims to teach English students exclusively in English.  So, points there.  But, more essential, he is re-invigorating the Tech course with, holy crap, actual technical knowledge!  The first thing he said that made me prick up my ears that the he thinks they have done enough word processing and spreadsheets.  Indeed they have.  The next thing he did was tell us what he will be covering instead: binary/hex, video/film editing, 3-D modeling and actual coding topped his list.  Hello!  DD had opted out of Tech this year because her last teacher was so uninspiring.  She figured she would learn more just asking us things at home.  But, this gentleman is actually teaching things I don’t know.  So, kudos!  We sent a letter today requesting that DD be allowed to add the class.  Unfortunately, it will make her schedule late twice a week, but I think you don’t pass up an opportunity like this if you can take it.  Wish us luck! 
(An awkward aside- we were busy telling DD about the new teacher and his class as we walked by him in the hall.  I only noticed his presence after I stage whispered that he was ‘Awe-some!’  Whoops.  Well, if I had to be over-heard, I am glad it was probably while saying something that will make his evening :)

     There are going to be some Big Tests coming up this year.  Apparently there will be ‘Long Tests’ in October, and then full ‘Exams’ in December.  I guess this is a European thing, since most of the families seemed to understand the context.  Given our testing-heavy American society it feels a little weird.  Our kids are tested all the time, so what is the deal with Long Tests and Exams?  But, I get the impression these are sort of like a cross between Finals and State Testing and the SATs all rolled together.  For this year I think that these are mostly used internally, but that the ones they take their last two years will go toward their Baccalaureate, which is basically their High School diploma… only, there are some layers to it.  Like the OWLS in Harry Potter.  Honestly, I am still pretty confused.  But, I guess all we can do is encourage DD to do her best. 

     Today they released yet another set of schedules for the students.  The good news is that DS no longer has a 10-hour school day on Tuesdays.  But, apparently there is still some confusion on some of the other particulars.  For instance, on DD’s schedule there is a blank shown on Monday mornings.  But, the English teacher swears that she has the students during that slot.  The parents hadn’t all gotten to see the new schedules, yet, so my copy was popular before the meeting.  Most of the parents were relieved that the open slot was actually filled.  With the upper and lower grade classes on different schedules, it is already a bit of a nightmare trying to coordinate start-times when you have more than one Hogwarts kid in the family!

     DD’s French teacher does, in fact, speak French with an Anime voice.  Which is both hysterical and wonderful.

     Contrary to popular rumor, the English teacher does not seem to have a speech impediment.  However, she does have a particular kind of French accent that leaves her pronouncing ‘r‘s like ‘w‘s.  I might not have been sure about this if another of the parents had not had exactly the same accent!  Now I am curious to know where it is from. 

Big Talk 

We got to hear a lot of the parents speak, actually, because about 2/3 of the way through the discussion shifted from academics to Issues We Have With Teenaged Children.  And, wow was that fascinating to watch.  It is difficult to assess in a room like that how many of the differences in parenting style that we were seeing had to do with individual ideals and how many were cultural.  But, one thing that became clear in listening to the parents discuss their woes and possible solutions was that while teenagers the world over may be very similar in their wiring and behaviors, parental responses vary wildly!  I did notice some trends, though.  The French and Spanish parents seemed to advocate for communal solutions while the American and UK folks were much more concerned with personal responsibility. 

Here are the things parents of 15-16 year old kids are worried about at Hogwarts: Smoking, Drinking, Sex, Facebook.

Sounds familiar?  I am pretty sure the same list shows up in just about every industrialized society, and the rest probably just leave Facebook off.

Proposed Solutions:

  • Set up parenting seminars on how to address these issues. 
  • Band together and make Facebook rules for all the kids in the class so that the kids can’t say “but so and so is still online” at 1 am. 
  • Police your own darned kids. 
  • Somehow stop the kids from smoking near the school because it sets up a ‘bad attitude’. 
  • Ignore the kids smoking near the school because you can’t control it.  
  • Worry more about Facebook Bullying than Cigarettes.  
  • Worry more about Cigarettes than Facebook. 

An Irish Mom and the Spanish Mom seemed to be most vocal and most at odds with one another.  Irish Mom seemed to think Spanish Mom wanted a 1984 Nanny State, while Spanish Mom seemed to think Irish Mom didn’t understand the idea that the actions of a few can affect the lives of all.  The French all wanted group meetings and support.  And we are, apparently, the hard-nosed Americans since David kept just saying “Say ‘No’, its hard, but you have to do it!”  My Filipino friend and I just sort of sat there taking it all in with our jaws only slightly askew.

Eventually one of the administrators not-so-subtly came by and changed the schedule on the door to the one for tomorrow night.  All the other classes had already cleared out and we were still sitting around having a mini-EU meeting for S4!  Grin.  Well, the teachers all say that our kids are the talky-class.  I guess the parents are, too!

Dursley Update: While we were in talking with the parents, the administrator who had helped us deal with the Dursleys chatted some with DD.  He told her that after he had spoken with one of the other Admins, they had actually taken the Dursley girls on a little walk to have a conversation with the police!  It seems there were three complaints about the little darlings that day and they felt that the best way to nip it in the bud was a little Scared Straight action.  Wow!

I still see the girls hanging around outside the school every day, so let’s hope it had an effect.

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