After a painful year in the German school system, my son, Rex (7), was recently enrolled in the American DOD elementary school first grade here in Germany.
Last year was painful. Rex’s teacher did not like him and Germans don’t mince words, especially when their English is severely limited. The language barrier was too much for both of them and after eight months we pulled him out for some much needed healing space. I brought Rex home to finish out the year at the kitchen table with me.
The damage was shocking. He had regressed in reading and writing English so badly (we’d only worked with German language basics all year) that we had to start all over again with the letter “A.” After four months we felt confident that he could enter first grade without needing too much extra catch-up.
When the class list went up and we saw he’d been chosen for the coveted German-immersion class due to his language experience my husband and I were wary. The teacher was German and we didn’t want him to feel like he was reliving last year’s nightmare. We simply wanted a teacher who could love him and help him enjoy learning.
Apparently, Germans don’t love him.
One week into school and our first sign was the repetitive morning belly aches. Instead of getting better they increased to the point where he not only skipped breakfast, I had to physically remove him from the car for school each morning.
We finally met with his teacher and the school counselor at the end of the second week.
It’s funny, we’ve been dealing with the German school system for so long that we’re totally conditioned to hearing the worst case scenario. You can imagine our shock when the counselor smiled at us and told us how much she like our boy. She had been getting to know him during those first two weeks and gushed about his gentle nature and quick improvement.
His teacher wouldn’t make eye contact with us.
When the time came for the teacher to share her observations about Rex she handled it in a very German fashion.
“Well,” she said with a sigh, “I guess the good news is that Rex doesn’t cause any kind of disruptions during class. He’ll sit quietly all day and entertain himself. But unless I personally task him he mostly ignores me…”
“Which is totally understandable,” the counselor said. “He’s still adjusting to this environment and time is an important part of that.” She tried to make eye contact with his teacher who drummed her fingers on the table and looked away.
I was slightly surprised at her irritation since most educators are aware that for children with serious anxiety this behavior is a common occurrence during adjustment periods.
“Plus,” his teacher said, “My class is all above average in reading and writing. Rex isn’t. His reading and writing skills are not up to par…”
“And that is perfectly okay,” the counselor interjected, shooting death glares at the teacher. “We are here to teach all students–even in the German-immersion classes. We have wonderful reading specialists who will help Rex…”
The interview continued in this fashion. The teacher telling us in her not so subtle way that she wants our kid out of the class and the counselor trying to overcompensate for her honesty.
As we left the counselor took me aside to apologize and walked me straight to the principal’s office to talk about the awkward interview. Apparently that kind of honesty is frowned upon in American schools.
After hearing about our conference and Rex’s traumatic year here, the principal personally placed Rex with a far more appropriate teacher, one who will hopefully see all the unique and wonderful smarts that swirl around in his little brain.
This experience was uncomfortable and yes, even painful, but we wanted to know her honest feelings. Did she like him? Would she help him? If the answer was no, we’d find a better environment.
I’m grateful for her frank honesty, even if it came with a bite. Our boy is finally in the right environment and that’s all we can ask for.