Thursday, 25 September 2008

Thursday 27th August - Elternabend and handarbeit

Thursday of this week sees our first Elternabend, for Klasse 4 – J’s class. Good grief it’s hard work – 2.5 hours of trying to listen and understand Deutsch. But the teachers are very friendly and helpful, and so are the other parents. It is not an individual appointment with the teachers, but a group session in the main hall (the Singsaal) for all the Klasse 4 parents and teachers in the two adjacent schools, followed by another group session for our particular Klasse, in J’s classroom.

There is a long presentation on the value of handarbeit (handwork – sewing, woodwork, metalwork etc) which seems to be regarded as a vital subject, for numerous reasons – social, language, group working, motor skills. I reckon this is where the Swiss tradition of hand skills and precision engineering is cultivated. There is a slide show which begins with a slide that says (in German, obviously): Parents, don’t worry. The Ark was made by amateurs, but the Titanic was made by professionals. And then some truly scary pictures of children the same age as J holding power tools. My previous week’s fears about sewing machines now pale into insignificance: J with a jigsaw ? I’ll just book him a bed at the kinderspital now, shall I ? My fears are not helped by the handarbeit teacher explaining that they now have a policy of working with a group of a maximum of 2 children per adult at any one time, as one child severed a finger last year. I think this is supposed to be reassuring, but for me, coming from health and safety conscious UK, it’s a whole new world of potential bad dreams.

Over to the classroom, where the teacher gives us a slideshow presentation of the childen, with words the children have prepared in class (“I come from Albania, my name is X, I like football etc”). Interestingly, there is a big range of nationalities in the class – about 50% Swiss but also several eastern Europeans, 3 or 4 Italians, couple of French, couple of Turks. Oh, and J ! The teacher says that she will speak to us in English at the end, but for the moment we must listen for the evening in German, so we can empathise with how it is for J each day. Fair enough.

We have heard that the jump between Grades 1-3 and Grades 4-6 in Swiss schools is massive, in terms of difficulty of work and stepping up a level with the work discipline: the main teacher reiterates and rams home this message by explaining a number of things:

How the naughty board works. (J’s name is on the first level of the board - funnily enough, he’s not mentioned this….!)
Expectations of presentation of work (ie scruffy work will not be tolerated, and will be sent home to be re-done)
Strict behaviour rules in the classroom
Strict punctuality expectations

There is even a picture on the board dictating how the undershelf of their desks should be organised – ie which books where, in which order. Scary stuff.

Evidently the new rules and homework volume haven’t yet been implemented – they have had the first fortnight to get used to each other and the new environment. The new level starts properly next Monday.

There are probably other things but after 1.5 hours I’ve lost it completely with the level of the German and am gibbering silently to myself in horror. What the hell have we done ? Our poor children, they must feel like this every day. I feel flattened.

The evening ends with some snacks and drinks and chatting to other parents, and the teachers, who are lovely and speak to us in English. Several parents make the effort to come and say hello to us and chat in English if they can, which is really very nice and accommodating, and I am again embarrassed by the poor level of my German.

We get home at 10.00pm, exhausted.

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