I left work a few minutes early to arrive on time, and as Richard and I slipped into a couple of seats in the back of the video room on the second floor of the worn building at exactly 15:07, with three minutes to spare, I noticed that nearly every single mother was already seated and waiting. Punctual. Go figure. There are certain times when punctuality is expected in this country. The teacher waits for no one, I suppose.
We were having our final meeting of the school year with La Maestra, fifty minutes of listening to her review the points needing attention in the Classe Prima B, all together in the stuffy room, no windows open and definitely no AC. The mamma's glistened. Besides Richard, who I insist attends everything, only one other father was present in the room filled with mamma's eager for the verdict. He was quite dapper, as I've come to expect in this crowd. I was in awe of the neatly shelved collection of VHS tapes, foolishly wondering where the DVD's might be, knowing they don't exist in this school where the teachers use blackboards and chalk, where there are no LCD projectors hanging from ceilings or Smart Boards mounted to walls, where there is a sole room with a TV and theater-style seating (about 50 seats in all) that everyone shares should a VHS be appropriate. It rarely is.
She opened with a bit of accounting. Okay, not just a bit: she explained where every Euro cent of the money she collected in September went, in detail, and then asked for more! There's the bus for the trip to the lake, and the summer homework books, and the gelato on the final day, and the notebooks she'll get this summer. I was thinking, "Honestly, I don't need the details. I trust you, Dear Sister. I know that you took a vow of poverty once upon a time and frivolity is not your style. How much would you like?"
She spoke vaguely about the progress of the children, even moreso than at other times this year. We've attended other class-wide meetings where a general concern has been backed up with very specific examples that hit close to home to one person or another. At the beginning of the year she scolded the group for the sizable snacks we dutifully provided our first graders, and then promptly (and anonymously) used the full-sized sandwich Richard packed for Young One as an example of getting it wrong: "One parent packed a huge sandwhich like this? (Gesturing a large rectangle with her thumbs and index fingers.) How do you expect that she will eat lunch after eating a sandwich like this at 10 am? I've never even seen a sandwich so big." Have you seen the size of a slice of Milton's Multi Grain? Admittedly, two slices with PB&J is a meal, not a snack.
She, again, expressed her concern with the children not valuing their school supplies quite the way she would like. Finding a stray pen on the floor, one that she provided the child the week before, is upsetting. See. . .no chance of frivolity.
Honestly, this meeting was fairly anti-climatic. She spent a lot of time saying not much of anything, or making rather vague references to learning and development. The individual report card conferences will be held after the last day of school. I did learn that she does not have a college degree. I also learned that the summer homework should all be done in pen. Pen. Medium point pen, to be exact. A mom seated next to me quipped that it was so that each mistake could be detected. No erasers on those pens. Ouch.
And just as I was ready to drift into the place I go when I'm done dealing with the foreign language while still immersed in the environment, she said something that brought me back.
She reminded us:
"There are 23 children in this class. Twenty-three children with twenty-three intellects. Each one is to be treated differently. Each grade on the final report card means something different. The grades are not equal. The grades are not important in relation to each other. The grade reflects the child's ability to meet his or her potential. Individuals. Twenty-three intellects."
Yep. She said that.
Pretty progressive assessment ideology for a 60 (or so)-year-old nun in a traditional Catholic school in Northern Italy, doncha think? Hell, that's progressive for my colleagues who each have a classroom with a SmartBoard, an LCD projector, and instant access to streaming videos on TeacherTube. Think La Maestra has even heard of TeacherTube?
When people ask me about plans to switch Young One to the American school, I generally offer vague responses: "Oh, we'll just know when it's time. Yes, she might continue for quite some time, possibly through high school. No, I'm not worried about her reading. I'm not worried about her falling behind. She'll be a part of the decision at some time. We'll see."
I think we'll stay put for a little while longer (at least for second grade).