I’ve been living in the Alsace for 17 years now. For the first 9 years in the city of Mulhouse and then when I was expecting my son, in 2004, I decided to move to a little village in the country, thinking it was the best thing to do for my son, Kieran. I imagined him playing in the nature and benefiting from an education in a small class, in the village school. How wrong I was!
I did imagine bringing him up bi-lingual, and spoke to him in English when he was a baby, but I could never find any advice on how, as a single mother, to go about keeping up with teaching him English and French at home. There was plenty advice for couples: one parent speaks in one language to the child and the other parent, the 2nd language.
Then when he started going to the local “crèche” and playing with the neighbours kids, french took over and English was soon forgotten. Now, I try to teach him a few words at a time in English, which he repeats with a strong French accent. Oh dear. Hopefully his interest will pick up soon, as I have already explained to him English is a great language to know and it would be a shame if he had to learn it in school later, when he’s got the best teacher at home. Also being such a social chatter mouth, that he is, I made him aware that if he was bi-lingual, he would be able to chat with even more people on the globe. Anything to make learning english tasty for him… Anyway, hopefully he’ll realise the advantages sooner or later.
As for my experiences with the village school…oh, boy, what a nightmare! After how well things went at the “crèche” in the neighbouring village, I was optimistic that there would be nothing to worry about him going to “Ecole maternelle”, as he’d proven he was a bright kid and interested in learning. Unfortunately, his teacher had a big personal problem with the fact he had an absent father and constantly made a big issue out of it which destabilised him a lot. “We’re not used to these kind of family structures in this village.”, she told me. For example, one father’s day, she told the kids to make a key chain and draw a picture of their daddy on it. My son included. No, he couldn’t make one instead for his grandmother, it HAD to be his father, and if he can’t give it to his father, then he can just stick it in a draw. Anything that wasn’t familiar to her and the village life, she made a comment about and a big deal out of it. I could see Kieran was starting to suffer.
As I was going through a depression at the time, I tried to find help, to no avail. I did go once to a “permanence” with a child psychologist, who told me after the 20minute session, that he’s suffering because he doesn’t have a father and that once he meets his father again, everything will go back to normal. What?? He seemed fine before and accepted that his father wasn’t available.
By the end of his 3rd year at the “Ecole maternelle”, he was hyperactive and seriously frustrated. And I was seriously worried. Before he started “Big School” (CME), I took the initiative to go and talk with his future teacher, to explain what he’s like and that I want to avoid problems getting worse. Her answer was basically, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it already from his other teacher.” Shrugging her shoulders and showing me the door.
The day came for him to start his new class, and I was shocked! Like I mentioned before, I imagined a small class in a village school. This was no small class, until I was explained that the teacher teaches 2 classes (CME and CE1) simultaneously in one classroom. I’m still baffled to how it’s possible a teacher can teach like that and how the children can learn in that environment. Apparently “it’s quite normal” to have composed classes in the country.
With Kieran now having concentration problems, the distraction of another class and part-time absence of the teachers attention, did not help matters. He was getting worse and worse, and was giving less and less effort into sticking papers into notebooks, which seems to be the way of teaching here. After 3 weeks, I was waiting for him outside school with the other parents, when she came out, jumping around like Rumpelstiltskin, shouting at me, that if it goes on like this, she’s going to end up in a mental institution. The parents all shot me this evil look and that was the end to saying “Bonjour” to me. People stopped saying hello to my mother as well, who lives in the same village.
From then on, Kieran was denied anything that could bring him a little bit joy, like opening a box on the class advent calendar, going to see St. Nicolas, outings, swimming, etc. He was passed around in all 3 classes of the school, earning a reputation from all the kids and teachers, or sat in the cold hallway to count the laces on shoes or whatever kind of nonsense she could come up with.
Suddenly, after months of looking for help, she contacted the school inspector, the school psychologist, the school doctor, the school director, etc, and I was invited to my first of numerous school meetings, where I was sat in a room with a dozen people pointing their finger at me. It was so intimidating! One time I had an invitation, but I refused to go explaining, I would not go through that ordeal again, but requested a smaller meeting with just his teacher, and the school inspector. The next day, I had the mayor knocking on my door, saying they’ll be a new meeting and that I better go to this one. I calmly explained to him that it was me that requested the meeting, but inside I was boiling. Now the mayor was even involved!
By this time Kieran, was seeing a good psychologist at a centre specialised in children, who assured me I had done nothing wrong and was shocked at how Kieran had been treated my the school during all these years. Finally I didn’t feel so alone and helpless anymore, and Kieran was in good hands. He explained Kieran has ADHD, but didn’t agree with administrating him drugs like Ritalin (which 3 psychologists said was imperative), but that years of therapy are yet to come. I was so glad he wasn’t for drugging him, as I had put up quite a fight with a few doctors and psychologists about being against putting my child on an amphetamine derivative which has caused the death of a lot of children around the world. I’ve seen kids on it and I don’t want to see Kieran in that state.
Anyway, I went to the meeting I requested, and they got straight to the point: Kieran will no longer be welcome in the school, in the afternoons. I remember one incident that made me so angry, where an outing to the theatre, one afternoon was planned and all the kids were excited about going. I asked his teacher if he could go, because on the occasions where he was allowed to go on outings, he was always well behaved. She answered: “Didn’t you understand what we said in the meeting? NO, he’s not coming with!”.
I spoke with his psychologist about his partial suspension from school. He wasn’t happy about it either and proposed 3 afternoons at the centre, where they have some small classes. That went great. He enjoyed going and could benefit from educational outings. Unfortunately, it was only a short term solution until I found something else.
I found out about existing schools specialised in children with learning disabilities, behavioural problems, etc, and applied for one in November 2010. Well, I began to apply then, but the application form required written letters from doctors, teachers and anyone professional who’s had contact to him. His teacher and the school director took ages to return their forms. You’d think they would have been the first to have given them in! Once the application was completed (which took a few months), it was then analysed by committee to decide if it’s acceptable enough to be passed onto the committee of the MDPH, which is the health department for disabled and handicapped. I got a call, in mid April 2011, giving me a positive reply. Now, we just had to wait for the school to accept and wait until a free place was available, which could take several months. The school accepted almost immediately and I couldn’t believe it when they called me up 2 weeks later, basically saying: pack his bags, he starts in a week!
The school is a boarding school, 55km away, so he’s only home at the weekends. I miss him terribly but he has made so much progress and seems globally happier. It’s probably not such a bad thing that, he’s away from this village most of the time, because the problems continue. (Don’t worry, I’ll leave that for another time, lol)
The week after he started his new school, I found out that some parents had previously gotten together and started a petition against Kierans presence at “their” school and the request to an immediate suspension, which was addressed to the school inspector. I took up a battle with her about that, requesting a copy. She said it was no of my business; that the letter was addressed to her personally and she is not obliged to give me a copy. I think she was pretty angry I found out about it. What makes me angry is that, those parents got away with the petition which discriminates, my now recognised handicapped son.
Now, I'm planning my "great escape" away from here and hope to find an apartment nearer Kierans school. I can't handle it here much longer :(