Wednesday, November 24, 2010


This translates literally as 'parent's evening' but this is not parent's evening in the English sense of the word, oh no, that's 'elternsprechtag' and I get the joy of that on Thursday (Jas) and Friday (Ben) when the parents sit down with the teachers and get told the good/bad news about the performance or otherwise of their pride and joy.

Elternabend is a joy that doesn't exist in the UK schooling system, but don't feel hard done by, the UK schooling system has so many things that the German one doesn't; positive feedback instead of criticism, a timetable of lessons that runs from 9 till at least 3, a timetable that stays put for the whole of the school year and doesn't change, and supply teachers...I could go on and on (but then I will be accused by some (mentioning no names, but you know who you are) of being 'negative') The elternabend is the opportunity for the parents* to get together en masse with their class teacher to discuss....stuff.

Some teachers are better at chairing these meetings than others, Jas's 1st teacher would let the meeting meander off track and the parents discuss for 30 minutes or so whether to get fizzy water or still and from which budget supermarket, our currnet teacher seems to value his personal time a little bit more and so can usually be relied upon to keep things more on track.

He got us there early last night, to show us photos from the last 2 trips out of school & from the 'ritterfest'** last week which seemed to have included lighted candles (and we're not talking tea lights in jam jars here, they had serious naked flame action going) and sword fighting as well as carving meat off the bone - if the photos I saw were anything to go by anyway, 3 things which would surely make any UK teacher run for the health & safety handbook. We seemed to sit through the photos at least twice as Herr B let it roll round again and again for the 'latecomers' (why d'you think they were late? Clearly planning on missing out that bit of the proceedings).

The first item on the agenda was a discussion of what our children had thought to the film they'd been to see earlier in the day (A Letter for the King, lots of knights, sword fighting and the barest of blood - good job seeing as 1 child has a blood phobia apparently) Of course most parents were keen to share their child's view, and if you didn't want to share (as in my case because Jas had said she couldn't actually remember much of the film or maybe because your child was so scared by the film she had her hat pulled down over her eyes for most of it) then tough, because Herr B singled us all out...

More interesting to me was the fact that 3 classes went to the small festival cinema in Mülheim, they walked down to the train station and caught a train into the BIG main station in Essen where they changed trains (presumably this meant getting all the kids off one train and onto the platform, going down a set of steps, through a subway to another set of steps and up onto another platform to catch the train out to Mülheim, 60 kids aged between 8 & 10 and 3 adults...I'm glad I only found out about this after the event.

After the subject of ritters had been thoroughly exhausted we moved on to next week's Lichterfest, the children make lanterns from highly flammable paper & glue, put a lighted candle inside (most of the classes use small battery powered lights but Herr B poo poos such modern thinking) the classes then march through the woods behind the school together while the parents stay at the school and drink glühwein (I knew there was a reason for going) then the children come back, we stand around a bonfire in the playground while the children sing songs before everyone goes off to their respective classrooms for a small performance and food.
So much to organise, but the salient points (or those that Rebecca & I were struck by) were that small children & other siblings should not be allowed to be disruptive, if they could possibly be left somewhere else/locked in a small windlowless room then all the better AND would parents please not talk amongst themselves while the children were singing, if we could request those caught chattering to shut up then that would be a good thing...

The bike training that the children are doing came next, Herr B couldn't resist the opportunity to comment that some of the bikes (that'll be 2 English kids then at least) don't have kick down bike stands and have to be leant up against the wall, damn! Good job schools have walls eh? I refuse as a matter of principle to put a bike stand on Jas's bike (sorry Jas) and if next year when the local cop in charge of bike testing doesn't pass the bike because of it's lack of a stand then so be it, to date there's no legal requirement for bikes to have stands to make them roadworthy therefore our bikes will be standless and I shall stand my ground on that one.

Next came Vera, sorry VERA***, and the analysis of the results from last year's year 3's. The results we were shown related to a group of 12 children, as soon as I heard the sample size I tuned out, what's the point on patting yourself on the back over statistics based on so tiny a sample size, even if they'd combined all 4 year 3 groups they'd struggle to reach a useful sample size, afterall there's lies, damned lies and statistics.

I've whined before about the willingness of German parents to waste time and oxygen banging on about something that is of no consequence, at least not when you compare it the that fact that the school is currently 2 teachers down and there is no supply teacher system nor even the possibility for the head to take a class as she already does, last night was no exception.
Milk was not on the agenda and was sprung on us by a well meaning parent (do-gooder) concerned that those children whose parents receive benefits and therefore get free school milk can only get plain milk not 1 of the 3 flavoured milks that are an option and so are they not then being labelled as 'poor'. The discussion went round and around, maybe we could take it in turns to pay the extra, maybe they should all have plain milk, maybe the milk cartons were too big anyway and they should have smaller cartons...we just sat there mute, rolling our eyes at each other, desperate to leave.

I came home whining to Si about what a waste of 2 hours of my life the meeting was and about the VERA and the milk and he asked whether I'd said anything at the time or whether I'd just muttered to myself...
Guilty as charged, consider my wrist slapped, but then again what good could speaking out in that particular forum do? If I'd told Herr B that in my opinion VERA wasn't worth the acetate he'd printed it out on then he'd probably have taken it personally, as a slight on him, and the milk? Well, that kind of issue needs to be addressed at a governmental level to get it fixed properly, all the parents can offer is a sticking plaster solution.

* parents are pretty much expected to turn up, I get the impression you get a black mark against your name if you don't make it to most if not all, and yes, there is more than 1 per term - double joy.
** ritter=knight, their topic since restarting school this year has been knights & the middle ages, great for the boys but a bit of a yawn for the girls, I don't know who's most looking forward to the next topic (sex, or maybe it's sex education) the boys, the girls or the parents (just for the entertainment value at the dinner table of course)
*** VERA stands for 'vergleichsarbeiten in der grundschule', comparison of schoolwork at a primary school level.

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