26 May 2011

23 Intellects in Prima B

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."

Twenty-three intellects.
I think we'll stay put for a little while longer (at least for second grade).



  1. So glad you found the right school for you!

  2. Glad it was you and not me because I would have died from embaressement.

    Are you and Richard planning to move back to the states? I was just wondering because you mentioned that you were considering at some point of putting your daughter in the American School. While I really don't have any idea of what I am talking about, I bet your daughter is getting a much better education than most of the schools here in the states. I know the schools in Germany were much better than our local school.

    I wouldn't worry to much about her reading and writting in English. It will come. We raise our boys bi-lingually and our two oldest can speak, read, and write in German even though they have only spent summers in Germany. They do go to German school on Saturday, but that is for only 2 1/2 hours during the school year. The magic of being a child is the ability to learn quickly. She will pick up English in no time.

    Another thing is that if she did attend the American School, I am sure you would be spending a lot of time in the car taking her around town for playdates. She would also be saying many goodbyes as people come and go.

    I kind of like the European system of a teacher staying with your child for many years because they know your child's strengths and weaknesses. It could really suck if you have a teacher you don't like though!

  3. Francesa,
    So are we. So are we.

    We have an American school right here in Italy available to us. Very American. I'm pretty sure she'd get a good education there too, just different. She is in the Italian school for the benefit of teh second language and the connection to the community. THe American school does not provide those things as it is entirely in English and is not part of the larger Italian community very much. It is a bit isolating, in fact.
    I love that your boys are growing up with both lanugages. Do you know how many people I meet who don't give their native language to children. . . sticking always to English. It's very sad.
    We have lucked out with this teacher, at least for first grade. I wonder if I'll still be singing her praises in four years. Only tmie will tell.

  4. Just make sure you make the proper size snack and I am sure she will stay on your good side. :) I think it is great that your daughter goes to the public school. It hasn't always been easy raising the boys bi-lingual, but I am glad we have stuck with it.

  5. we chose not the American school here in Italy, rather the European one. Both kids came from DODDS school here in Europe and both kids were behind when they started here a year ago. As I have to admit that I thought at their "beginning" of their school career the American system was great, I got disappointed after 2nd grade. Granted both are still in an English speaking school but with language exposure as a second language is a requirement. And I wish they could stay in this school for the rest of their schooling but with only 2 more years left here we know it won't happen.