Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Conseils de classe....part 2

If the theme of yesterday’s conseils de class was “francais fragile”, tonight it might very well have been “feliciter ou encourager?” (to congratulate or to encourage?). After reviewing one kids improvement over last year there was an initial impulse to congratulate the student, however, one of the teachers pointed out that the student while exhibiting a good attitude had some serious deficiencies in her class (French). Her point was not to be critical; rather, it was to opt for positive encouragement rather than congratulation which in her eyes and those of most people in the room conveys a sense of having arrived and therefore when issued prematurely risks stalling the student precariously on a slippery slope, the ascent of which requires further effort, but whose descent to regress needs only a relaxation of that effort.

Congratulations were also withheld from another kid with good grades but erratic behavior. In his case encouragement was also withheld in favor of a terse, matter-of –fact observation about the value of excelling on all possible fronts, not just grades. Congratulations went out most often to kids who demonstrated consistently good, not necessarily excellent, grades without raising red flags on other areas such as attitude, behavior and participation.

One memorable moment came when the principal went on a brief rant after hearing someone mention that one of the students had said she didn’t want to take math. The principal became very vexed on the subject and he addressed himself directly to the two student delegates present, who are to report to their class in a meeting the next morning. “I don’t want to hear any more talk like this. This notion that one might not take such and such a class…all of the courses are required, but especially Math. No one is exempt.” The student delegates scribbled dutifully on their summary sheets.

I find it very intriguing that the each group/class of students holds its own meeting the morning after the conseil de classe to hear the reports from their two delegates. The idea is to provide a venue for the students to hear how they are perceived both individually and collectively by their teachers. It is also a venue for them to perhaps react, to form new intentions, not just individually but also in concert with one another. That is the hope, at least, and I am impressed that time and energy is devoted to giving that hope a chance to manifest itself.

This evening I sat next to the student delegates. They each have forms with the names of all their classmates and space to record the comments made in the conseil about each student and about the group as a whole. I noticed that the delegate next to me was very attentive, each time a teacher made a remark about a kid, the delegate scribbled something.

As a related aside, earlier that morning in one of my classes I had noticed a girl trying unsuccessfully to hide the fact that she was crying. I kept an eye on her as I carried on and she eventually pulled herself together to the point where she spent the last half of the period participating in bavardage (talking, gossiping, chattering…not about the lesson) with three nearby classmates. At the end of class, I called her to my desk and asked if she was okay…the question seemed to trigger a sudden relapse, her expression became downcast. I asked her what was the matter. She told me that she had just learned in her class meeting that morning that one of her professeurs during the conseil de classe had described her as bavarde and that some mention of that had made it into her bulletin (grade report) which would be reaching parents in a few days. I asked her which teacher said this about you? She said she didn’t know. I looked at her for a moment trying to get a handle on her relative well being…I smiled at her and said, “Leilah, I said, do you know what you just spent the last tweny minutes of my class doing?” She raised her eyes and looked at me. It took a moment but there appeared a glint of recognition followed by a faint, perhaps coy smile of her own. It didn’t last long though as she seemed revisited by thoughts of repercussions…unhappy parents perhaps?

I encouraged her to bounce back, to move on. She nodded and left…good kid, I remember thinking as she left, if only she could stay on task a little better….

A bit later in the meeting another student, yet another girl, was being discussed. It came out that she hated school and wanted to go to work. Here again the principal weighed in, though this time in a more reflective manner. He mused aloud about how difficult a path this girl was embarking on if she imagined that she could go to work without first obtaining a decent formation in school. It seemed to me to be a tacit admission that the system here is not really set up to accept young workers without the likelihood of their being frozen into that economic holding pattern for the rest of their lives. In typically ironic and poetic style, the French call the minimum wage salaire de misère (it rhymes when you say it correctly). The principal concluded on a wistful note, addressing no one in particular he said, “Let her try to well in school for a couple of trimesters and then she can see about getting work.”



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