Friday, December 16, 2011

What makes me 1158 words.

Yesterday there were parent-teacher conferences at my son's Middle School. We had been up there for something similar just about five weeks ago, but this time they were showing us a "little" report card. What this means is that it's a pre-report card, an idea of how you're doing, as the real, mid-year report card, the grades which "count" are discussed at the end of January(I can't even say given out, because you take nothing home until end of June).

One teacher, the home-room teacher we could say, has the grades for all the subjects. You wait on a line outside a classroom door, inching up towards the front, waiting your turn. Once you enter, the home-room teacher gives you a little piece of paper with all the subjects listed and then reads off the grades, asking the student to write them down. This is a great improvement, and not all the teachers do this, but rather some people walk around writing down the grades on the edge of a newspaper or a store receipt. Yea for progress!

After at least 30 minutes of waiting on line I'm already beginning a slow boil as I ask whoever will listen to me...why can't they make appointments? "How would they do that?" my son, who is more accepting of the Italian ways, asks. "THROUGH THEIR WEBSITE, OF COURSE!" I say, which is a big joke because, of course, there is none. Organization and efficiency are not virtues here in Italy, so everyone sees hanging out at the school for two hours to talk to a teacher or two, for ten minutes total, as OK...or at least the way it's always been.

My son's homeroom teacher is the English teacher, so of course he does well in that subject, in fact a 9 out of 10. He finally has an English teacher who recognizes how well he is able to speak (he is madrelingua, after all!) because she herself speaks well and converses in English with him often. Previous English teachers hadn't a clue and would use the standard tactique of grading him medium well at mid-year and then higher at the end, to show he had progressed. Rubbish. He knew the colors and numbers in English in September and he knew them in June.

While he passed most of his classes at a Satisfactory level, he only squeaked-by in French. Dante was tutored twice a week for months in order to catch up with his class. The tutor helped him with all his homework and prepared him for the quizzes. They also did all the textbook Units that he missed from last year. But would it look if he had a decent grade? Like the teacher's efforts last year with the class had little value. So what happened? She had to give him a low grade to show that, of course, he's struggling. Rubbish again. She even told him NOT to do a section on the one and only test this semester because she thought it would be too hard for him...and then gave him a barely passing grade (but higher still than his pre- report card grade). In fact, if you add up the scores he's gotten in French this year and average them, they are considerably higher than his pre-report card grade.

Dante's Math and Science teacher was out the first two months of the school year. The substitute did little to no work with the class. When she returned it was BAM, right into difficult problems from almost the back of the text! He's not a whiz in Math, but attended tutoring for that also. OK, I'll accept his grade, but Science is Dante's passion and even before the teacher lectures he can answer all the questions. When he had his "oral interrogation" on the skeleton, he got two bones in the forearm confused, but another 50 questions correct. Unfortunately, he got the same, barely-passing grade.

In fact ALL his grades were the same except for English and Behavior, which were 9 out of 10. Yes, I was told, the teachers give their grades while looking at what the other teachers give. Teachers even made comments that you can't be "Bravo" in only one subject if you weren't "Bravo" in the others (so they doubt their own independent assessments?). WHAT!! Of course you can be great in one subject and stink in another. What about Einstein? What about learning strengths and weaknesses?

In fact, the grades are totally subjective. There is nothing qualitative that a parent can be shown to support the grade that was given ("That is private information" a mother was told!). I'm sorry to say that I think the teachers give whatever grade they feel like giving. The parents who regularly bring cookies for the faculty room, or who come in to fix the school's antenna, or are the local bigwigs have children whose report cards show terrific grades even if they work little (there are many example of this for evidence). Since not everyone can have terrific grades, the rest of the kids muddle by with mediocre grades across the board which don't reflect or encourage their passions, interests or take into account any learning difficulties they may have. Foreigners--and this includes Dante even though his father was born in this town--must work harder even still.

Part of the problem with the school here is that my son is shy and in a classroom situation he isn't the first to aggressively answer questions. So much of what they grade the kids on is "oral interrogation". This is perhaps the first mismatch between my son's learning style and the teaching methodology here. What about having a variety of assessment methods for different learning styles? Unheard of!

I wanted to talk to his Math/ Science teacher, but after waiting in line for 45 minutes to see her, she told me that I had to wait until she had spoken to all the parents of her homeroom students first. I admit I lost my temper at this point and stormed out of there, sarcastically saying, "Grazie" after explaining we had been waiting so long, the other teacher had told us to come, etc. etc. I have a real fear now that she will "take revenge" for my reaction on my son's grades this year.

So, I continue to find the education here in this little village appalling and I'm back at the point I was 18 months ago when I asked what are our alternatives. Then I decided to do a year of home-schooling with an American curriculum, but for that we had to leave Italy.

I've been offered an English teaching position in the after-school program in my son's Middle School starting in January. Maybe I'll start my own undercover guerrilla warfare plan. Cookies in the faculty room, anyone? Just to get us through the end of Middle School, June 2013! Not that I think local High Schools are much better...

If anyone has any suggestions that don't include $30,000 a year International School in Rome, I'd love to hear them!!

And for anyone who's gotten this far...thanks for allowing me to vent.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What makes me sing, in 400 words, exactly.

Following a prompt I saw in several places in my early-morning web browsing, I decided to write my own list of what makes me happy, in exactly 400 words. I hope you enjoy it, and then take 30 minutes to write your own.

My first cup of hot tea, milk, no sugar, in the morning. Eaten with toast spread with peanut butter and home-made jam.
Making home-made fig jam (and prune, and apricot, etc.) in spring and summer to enjoy in the winter.
Walking my four dogs up the hill, then back down through the fields.
Watching the new puppy find her place in the "pack of four".
Going upstairs to my office and sitting down to do yoga, meditate and write.
Being alone and being with others, in balance.
Being in the countryside and being in Rome, in balance.
Trying new recipes, finding one we all love and making it often.
Doing word games and jigsaw puzzles.
Discovering a new blog where the writing and content are both terrific.
Online courses, tutorials, youtube and Kindle books. and .it
Book club with an international group of women and books I'd never have discovered on my own.
Long, easy conversations in English. Speaking in Italian, and being understood!
Traveling, with trusted house sitters.
Finding some money squirreled away in a pocket that I had forgotten about.
Being a mother, being married. Having hear-to-hearts with both. Eating nearly all our meals together.
Discovering new music and ITunes music downloads.
Radio over the internet.

Winter: The fireplace, knitting and a great movie. Hot soup. Cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, spinach and broccoletti, brussel sprouts. Reading a book while snuggled under three blankets. The reflections the Christmas tree lights make on the wall and ceiling when they are the only lights in the room. My son's presepio, with figures from Naples and painted cardboard boxes. Baking cookies...and licking the beaters. Then eating the warm cookies. With a cup of tea, milk, no sugar.
Spring: The promise of planting seeds indoors while it's still cold outside. The pruned olive tree branches dancing in the wind. Bulbs blooming, and roses too.
Summer: Digging in the warm earth to plant seeds, bulbs, seedlings, trees. Picking a vegetable or fruit from the garden and eating it within minutes.
Shooting stars. Italian beaches...lounge chairs, umbrellas, snack bars and the Mediterranean Sea. Thinking: OK, in that direction is Greece, in that direction is Africa. Artisanal gelato. Home-grown tomato sandwich with mayo on white. Salads and BBQs.
Autumn: Berries, wildflowers,and mushrooms. The smell of burning wood. New oil bruschetta. New wine.

Being retired so I can notice and appreciate this all more easily!