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This Puzzling Place Canadians Call “School”

“Daddy working”, Mark, November 2018

“Just tell me what happened. I’m not mad yet, but I will be if you don’t speak.”

The guys are sitting face to face in the living room—Feng on the couch and Mark on the IKEA chair’s footrest.

Clearly, I missed something.

It’s 3:20 p.m. and I’m stopping by between two work-related errands. Feng just came back from picking up Mark from school. The last time he used this line with Mark was for a bathroom accident in kindergarten. Surely, Mark is a bit old for that, isn’t he?

Mark is looking at me as the potential “good cop”.

“Daddy is talking to you.”

“Was it during first or second recess?” Feng prompts.


“Morning or afternoon?”

“Okay, Feng, what happened?” I finally ask.

“He got a note from his teacher.”

“Oh. What does it say?”

“Not good.”

I open Mark’s notebook. Her tight handwriting is hard to decipher and it doesn’t help she used purple ink.

I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach.

Mark is disrupting the class. Worse still, he kicked another kid and THIS WAS WITNESSED BY TEACHERS she adds as if I would be tempted to hire my own legal expert and cross-examine whoever was around during the very-bad-behaviour event.

I glanced outside half expecting to see a police car parked in front of the house, waiting to send Mark to juvie.

I’m confused but I’ll think later—now is the time to parent.

“This is bad! You don’t get sent to the principal office in first grade! What’s going on with you?”

I lecture Mark—what else can I do? Feng punishes him, no TV for a week.

I’m a bit shocked. Do many first graders get sent to the principal’s office or—gasp—just my son?

Am I one of these parents in complete denial?

I can see Mark being distracted or talking to other kids in class. “Focus!” is my motto. Sure, it’s annoying, but I suspect most six-year-old kids are easily distracted and can be distracting. This is not an excuse, I fully support a teacher enforcing classroom rules. But what the hell am I supposed to do here? Remind Mark to pay attention? Sure, no problem. Is this going to work? Meh. I’m not in the classroom…

As for Mark kicking the kid, I get the full story a few days later. I’ll spare you the minutiae, but it’s basic playground drama, “cool kid” not letting Mark play. Mark shouldn’t have reacted like that, of course.

We started off on the wrong foot with the teacher.

We met her once, during the school BBQ the second week of September. The first thing she told us was that Mark had to complete math exercises to do at home. “Great!” I replied cheerfully, assuming she was introducing us to the concept of homework. “No,” she corrected me. “He has to do it at home because he didn’t do it in class.”

I was taken aback. This was week 2 of Grade 1, wasn’t it her job to make sure kids complete their assignments? Mark didn’t even know he was being “punished”, he was just transitioning from kindergarten.

After the note, I wrote the teacher a letter to try to smooth things out. We value education and you have our full support, we talked to Mark and reminded him to pay attention and be nice to other kids, etc.

Was it what she expected from us? I have no idea. She didn’t reply.

Frankly, I don’t know what the school expects from parents and what’s expected from Mark.

Mark is in French immersion, which means that the curriculum is taught in French (except for the daily one-hour math class). However, Mark and his classmates do not speak French. Please, don’t say, “BUT YOU’RE FRENCH!”—French isn’t a disease, Mark has my hair, not my language skills.

The kids don’t learn French, they learn in French and they are supposed to “pick up the language.” Apparently, they are also supposed to “pick up” reading because I taught him, the school didn’t.

In theory, it sounds lovely. In practice, it’s extremely frustrating. Mark is sent home with books to read in French and I have to sign his reading log otherwise I get a note (he forgot his book at school that day).

“The teacher was mad you didn’t sign, mommy”

“I don’t know what he means,” he moans. Well, duh. If I have to read a book in Romanian, I wouldn’t understand it either.

I dread Tuesday’s homework. Mark has to write several sentences with 6 different words in French. Sounds easy? I thought so until I saw Mark’s puzzled look after explaining the instructions (written in French, bien sûr). Ever tried to explain what a sentence is to a six-year-old kid?

“Okay, so just find the subject.”


“The… the person.”

“I don’t know what these words mean.”

“Find the verb—the action word, like to speak, to walk, etc.”

He doesn’t get it and guess what, I can barely come up with several sentences with the words given—there are no prepositions, so no matter what, if you only use the words supplied, sentences aren’t grammatically correct. For example, “la maman” “parle” “ le chien”—the correct sentence would be “la maman parle avec le chien” but there’s no “avec”.

I don’t understand why the teacher (the school? The curriculum?) doesn’t make kids memorize basic sentences in French, conjugations for simple verbs, etc. But there are no books and kids didn’t even learn the accents in French, which is like français 101.

I feel sad. This isn’t the school experience I wanted for Mark. I wanted him to be a good student, I wanted to be the parent supporting the teacher, I wanted him to learn French… and here I am, completely confused.

Parent-teacher meetings are this week. We have the 9:00-9:10 slot. Should be a fun 10 minutes.

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French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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