Back-to-School

A new school year is about to start. My kids are impatient to head back, they have been asking about school for a month now. Yes, they really love their school.

In Belgium we were happy with the system. I attended a school that could be best described as “hard”, traditional, strict and kind of elitist that didn’t suffer nor have much patience for students having difficulties following. Coming from that background, I had high expectations for my kids’ education. When my daughter started 1st grade I was though on her. We would work everyday and, in the beginning, would both end up crying. We did reach a balance after some adjustment and I put an end to the pressure I was putting on her shoulders.

When me moved to France, we didn’t think too much about our school options. There were 3 of them: the private system which refers to the catholic schools for which you pay a small fee, the public one which is free and open to anyone and lastly the private & out of contract type which is a bit more expensive and only follows the official program for French and math subjects (this includes Montessori schools for example). For us there was no questioning, it was obvious our kids would be enrolled in the public school linked to our neighbourhood. Its location was great, in the city center, and only a 7-minute walk from our house. Better than that you don’t get!

I quickly started doubting our choice. I didn’t like the overly populated classrooms, 29 six-year-old in 1st grade and 32 for my then 3rd-grader that would increase to 34 a few times a year when the fun fair would visit our town. This was too much, how can you learn anything with so many pupils?

That was far from being my only concern, just the first of a long series that would go from no parent-teacher meeting to discuss your kids progress or adaptation, short discussions with the teacher in front of the school and all the other parents (thank you for the privacy, not!), parents not allowed to go further than the gate whatever the reason, no outside the box thinking, some archaic idea that the teacher knows better than anyone and is superior to anyone else, students and parents included. I don’t want to generalise as this reflects only our own experience.

My daughter had stomach aches for 2 years, my son had punishments on a weekly basis, having to write 50 times the same sentence for no reason. I’m not saying he is a saint, but he clearly didn’t understand why he had to do it, neither did I and the teacher wouldn’t listen nor explain.

After almost 2 years, we didn’t know what to do. It all changed thanks to a teacher that is probably the worst my kids ever got. Thanks to him and his square thinking and lack of adaptability we decided to enrol the kids in a completely different system and said our goodbyes to the French public education system and hello to the out of contract one. It took us 2 years to make the move, 2 long years for our children and for us.

This is probably the best decision we made in years. My children, went from being miserable to jumping around a month in advance to the though of September coming up!

In the beginning we had our doubts, had we done the right choice? Wasn’t it too many school changes in just a few years? Stability is key for a lot of us and in less than 4 years it would be their third school. It meant making new friends, learning a new language, longer school days and so on.

A few weeks in, on our commute to school, I was chatting away with my kids when it hit me: my then 5th grader had not once complained about stomach ache since the beginning of the school year. Everyone was commenting on how happy our kids looked, they had made news friends (and strangely enough never ever mentioned once the ones from their previous school) and generally looked and acted like happy kids. This was definitely our best move so far as parents.

I find school and all related topics such as homework, well-being, work-life balance (yes, even for kids!), managing expectations to be a though aspect of parenthood. I always question my choices, am I making the right move? Am I choosing what’s best for my kids? Should they adapt to the school or should we find one that suits their personality? I used to be tormented by school. Seeing my kids not expressing their full potential and develop their own personality would hit a sensitive nerve when it came to how I saw myself as a parent.

Deciding to make a move takes courage I find, it raises many questions once you start scrutinising your choices. Reaching a decision doesn’t put all the uncertainty at rest, on the contrary. You need to take a step back and wait a bit before you can fully appreciate the impact of such a change on your children, on you and your family.

I know we did the right thing for our family. Next week they will start their second year in this school and we are all impatient to see the teachers, their friends and the parents after a long summer break. The program might not be conventional, my daughter will learn Spanish and Chinese and will benefit from one hour of yoga every week but kids wanting to learn is way more crucial to me than following the official program to the letter. That is, of course, in my humble opinion!

Wishing everyone and their children a happy new school year!

Are you happy with the education system of the country you live in? Did you opt for a conventional/traditional or another type of way of teaching? I’m curious to hear your views.