Our Heroic Children

May 30, 2005Family Uncaged

It used to be that teachers were my heroes.

That changed a bit after we met with Aidan’s teacher last week. Seems he’s been having trouble calculating long multiplication problems like 458 x 157. (He’s in the third grade!) His math stress coincided with friend stress, so we felt it was good to share all this with his teacher. “Aidan’s having a hard time with the boys in his class,” I said. “They’ve been teasing him.”

“I haven’t noticed it,” she said.

I tried to help her see the connection between Aidan’s “giving up” in math and what had been happening on the playground, but she didn’t seem to get it.

“He does cry,” she said. “And when he does, I tell him not to be a baby–that only babies cry.”

I could feel the ire rise up my neck. I reminded myself that the French school system is about making kids tough, not enhancing their self-esteem. In her teaching world, it seemed perfectly logical to say these words to my son.

The next day, she twisted our concerns and told Aidan during math: “If you want to have friends, you have to do your math correctly,” she said.

On the way home from school, Aidan said, “Mom?”


“Our teacher sends kids back to second grade sometimes.”

“Oh, you mean she flunks kids?”

“No, if they are bad, or don’t do their work, she makes them go back to second grade for a day. Today, she almost sent someone.”

“Was it you?” I asked.

Thankfully, he said no.

I’m having a hard time wrapping my heart around this system. I realize that I grew up in the American school system where I was mostly cheered and encouraged, where teachers received heroic status. But I don’t get why teachers seem to enjoy ridiculing their students, as if ridicule were some sort of magic motivator. I know I am not motivated by shame.

I was talking to another mother this weekend, and we chatted about how teachers often read test grades in the front of the class, shaming the ones who failed and gloating over the ones who excelled. The mom said, “I’ve had to reinforce that at home our family doesn’t operate that way, but we’ve had to concede that this is the way the French do school.”

I wonder how much my children have endured this year. I wonder how much they have refrained from telling me. All I can say is that I am excessively proud of how they’ve managed this year–in another language, in another culture, in a completely different school system. They are the heroes of this church planting endeavor.

They are MY heroes.