Managing your child’s English teacher – expat parents tread lightly!

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Every year parents of secondary school children are given the chance to meet the elite team of professionals entrusted with that most sacred of all missions: filling our children’s heads with the necessary information to succeed in life (or at least some of it), at the “soirée parents-profs.” This is a major event in the school year and one you may want to prepare for, because in most French schools you have to be quick – 10 minutes per teacher is all you get!

A cause of angst over the years has been meeting the children’s English teachers. Very early on I decided not to be judgmental. I know that primary school teachers, for instance, are rarely properly trained to teach English, most have had to adapt to a foreign language programme that was forced upon them. In fact, I can remember one of my boys being overjoyed when he started learning English at primary school. “But you can already speak English!” I said, somewhat surprised by his enthusiasm, “Yes, but now we’re learning REAL English from a REAL teacher!” came the reply. So hearing my children coming home from school singing “Heads shoolders nis and tos”, or talking about the “Boof à l’eau” (read buffalo) was no big deal, and I didn’t bother mentioning it. Even hearing that one teacher told the class if they couldn’t manage to say “What time is it?” they could just say “Boîte à musique” seemed funny, and not worth challenging.

As my children have grown older and I have seen written homework brought home with incorrect corrections, I have sometimes found it hard not to react. Generally, I write a simple comment in the margin, which has rarely changed any mark already given. To be fair, most of the English teachers I have met have been charming, enthusiastic about their subject and good at their job. However, I did once make the mistake of questioning a teacher on her language teaching methods (in a very polite a “just a suggestion” kind of way). Suffice it to say I soon found myself persona non grata in the English department, and parent teacher evenings were never quite the same again. Be warned – ten minutes are all you get. Use them wisely!

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