Grade 1 Completed – By the Way, Did You Know That the Dog Is a Bus?

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"My school" by Mark, June 2019

“My school” by Mark, June 2019

Throughout the school year, shortly before 3 p.m., I would often receive short, cryptic emails from Mark’s school about a “delayed badger” or a “cancelled dog.” I naturally assumed the staff was on drugs (it’s legal, eh!) and I stopped paying attention to these afternoon emails. It took me months to realize they were referring to the school buses—yes, apparently, they have cute nicknames.

This is probably the most potentially useful thing I learned this year as the parent of a first grader (who, by the way, doesn’t ride the school bus). The school experience still feels awfully impersonal and completely baffling to me. “It’s like they don’t give a shit about the kids!” I explained Feng. “They begrudgingly welcome them for a few hours but they mostly focus on seemingly unrelated activities that always start with ‘VOLUNTEERS NEEDED!!!!’.”

Case in point, the emails. I would love to hear from Mark’s two teachers, read news about projects, current learning goals or get a quick update on the class but all the emails are from the school office and they are invariably calls for volunteers or donations (small amounts of cash or second-hand whatever) without much context. For instance, I’ve just received this gem:

Hello [school name]Parents!

The gardens in the back of the school need your help. A group of volunteers are needed to dig in plants to restore the Quiet and Rain gardens. This event will take place on a weekend morning before the end of June.

Please contact [name of a person we don’t know]directly at [email address].

School Council

And that’s the entire email, minus personal info redacted. This is the first time I hear about these gardens. No, I’m not going to dedicate a weekend morning to a project I don’t know anything about. Also, is it me or the way the email is phrased feels a bit… entitled?

There was only one parent-teacher meeting, back in October. We spent five minutes with each of Mark’s two teachers and that was it. I mean, I’m glad it didn’t last for hours because we were sitting on tiny chairs at a tiny table, but still, I wish we had more info about the class as a group and how Mark is doing.

I have no idea what he learned this year. He can read, he can write, he can count and his French is… a bit better, I suppose. Except for that one time where he was sent to the principal office, we had to assume everything was fine because we didn’t hear otherwise.

As for me, I spent the year confused, trying to decipher and meet the school’s expectations regarding supposedly “fun” activities. There were way too many pajamas days, where we invariably had to buy something warm enough to pass as pajamas but not Mark’s actual sleepwear which is worn out tees. I’m glad parents weren’t asked to join—I sleep in just underwear.

There was also a lot of scrambling around to figure out what colour Mark was supposed to wear during “Colour House” days:

Tomorrow is our school Colour House Spring Fling! The children will be doing a variety of different outdoor activities in their Colour House groups.

Please send your child to school dressed in their House colour, if possible.

We will be outdoors for well over an hour, so please send your child dressed for the weather. 

I’m still not sure what the fuck this is about but it’s a recurring event and the mission is apparently to teach kids to wear colours as if they were sports team.

Other missions included finding used books to give (and then send Mark to school with money to buy used books), picking items for show-and-tell Tuesdays, listening to Mark reading a book in French every night, coming up with sentences every week for the “six mots” homework and giving money to a few walk-a-thons and fundraising events. We skipped all “fun movie nights” (no way I’m paying $3 to watching a PG movie on Friday night in the school’s gym), the Halloween Dance and the Holiday Bake Sale.

The last chore of the year was to show up to the end-of-year BBQ—it could be a fun event if the kids were performing, but it’s just parents buying hot dogs from other parents who volunteered to cook and sell “dinner.”

But eh, at least this year I didn’t have to make lunch on Wednesdays because as I’m sure you know (it seems to go without saying around here) that Wednesday is “pizza day.” Parents prepay for the $1.75 slice of cheese or pepperoni pizza provided by a local “Italian” franchise and served by—you guess it—volunteers. Sigh. Society guilt-trip new moms into breastfeeding for as long as possible, insists on the importance of nutritious, sugar-free, allergen-free, low-fat, non-dairy, balanced, organic meals, then all of a sudden, the school board promotes dough and cheese as the perfect school lunch. Gee, that was worth it…

There are days when I really miss the French school system—not because it’s better but because at least, it makes sense to me. I wish I could walk to school and pick up Mark, chat with other parents and check the weekly menu at the cantine. I wish there were regular class meetings with the teachers and all parents instead of speedy five-minute individual interviews scheduled back-to-back early in the year. I wish we had the chance to get involved in class projects instead of being asked to volunteer for global school events young kids don’t even understand.

This is our only district school, so it’s not like we can switch easily to see if they are all run the same way. We’re kind of stuck, unless we enroll him in a French Catholic School Board school or in a private school.

Mark looks fine. Maybe I should just accept his school experience will be different from ours.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Cecile Puertas on

    Hello Juliette
    Je vois que tu n’es toujours pas convaincue des écoles canadiennes locales, et c’est vrai que vu d’ici c’est choquant qu’en première année vous n’ayez aucune réunion avec les enseignants. Mes enfants sont allés en école privée et nous avions une réunion d’information des le début de l’année plus une réunion par trimestre pour faire le point plus une réunion a chaque occasion particulière (préparation d’un voyage de classe ou d’un projet artistique ou autre).
    As-tu des amis qui ont envoyé leurs enfants en école française à Ottawa et quel est leur ressenti ?

    • Je n’ai pas tant d’exemples autour de moi, mais on a choisi des “solutions” très différentes : lycée français (visiblement très bien, mais système français et cher), conseil des écoles cathos françaises ou comme nous le school board anglophone avec immersion française. Ça dépend aussi où on vit, certaines de mes amies sont côté Québec, où le système est encore très différent. On tatonne tous un peu, visiblement il n’y a pas de super école.

  2. As someone who has taught in Alberta for several years it is interesting to see the differences between provinces/school districts. In the three school districts where I teach/have taught in Alberta, I am (and have been) expected to either email a monthly newsletter or write messages weekly/monthly on a class website. Every school where I have taught has a Meet the Teacher night in September and there are parent-teacher conferences twice during the year when report cards are sent home (November and March).
    Maybe there was a school/class website that you were unaware of that has an account for parents to be able to access more classroom information. It seems very odd that you received no curriculum information or messages from your son’s teachers throughout the year; across Canada it is typical for teachers to be expected to communicate regularly with parents either with emails or a class website. If that isn’t the case for your school I understand your frustration, parents have the right to know what’s going on in the classroom!

    • Thank you for your feedback!

      Mark’s JK and SK teachers both emailed weekly recap and I appreciated it (especially considering I understand it’s extra work). I was surprised to see his teacher this year didn’t. I’m pretty sure we didn’t miss any communication (or website, account, etc.). Now I’m curious to see how it will go next year… better, I hope. Otherwise, I’ll be more proactive and try to get the info myself.

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