Today we had a meeting where the parents of all the 25 kids in Nora's school class had to go and meet the teacher, get information about the school schedule, and see the classroom and facilities. Nora has been getting up at 10:30 or 11:00 this week, but this morning I had to wake her up at 8:45 to make sure we were on time for the 10:00 meeting. She was not pleased. But when I told her, "We have to go meet your teacher!", a huge smile broke out across her sleepy face and she sat right up, ready to start the day. She was clearly quite nervous, as she insisted on holding my hand from our apartment door, in the elevator, and all the 200 meters to the school. When we arrived at 9:55, we found a group of parents milling around outside the locked school door. I had a premonition that I'd be spending a lot of bored time waiting with this group of people over the coming years. Only one other student came to the meeting.
At 9:57 the doors opened and we were ushered into the school cafeteria, which also doubles as an auditorium, since there was a stage with closed curtains on one side. In the front of several rows of chairs, facing back at the chairs were seated seven young women in their twenties or thirties, and an older woman in her late forties.
Something from my days as a student clicked in, and I thought, "Hey, I'm glad to be here, don't want to miss anything, and want to form a good relationship with the teacher!", so we marched right up and sat in the very front row. When we did, the older woman waved and said, "¡Hola, Nora!" I'm extremely bad with faces, but hers didn't ring any bells at all, and Nora never returns the first salutation, so I just smiled.
Once we were all seated, a very professorial gentleman walked up to the front of the group. He looked right at home in front of the whiteboard on which "Adaptation Period" was written above a table with dates and groupings. As well as being a teacher for the older kids, he is also some level of school administrator and gave us a brief introduction to the school. Several times he used the Spanish adjective familiar, which, while its fourth definition in Spanish is the meaning it has in English, most often means "like a family". There are only 250 students at the school, and everyone knows each other, everyone lives nearby, and all the parents are encouraged/expected to help out with school functions.
The three-year-old class that Nora will be entering is called the Turtles, because they are slow, the four-year-olds are the Bears, because they are standing upright and getting bigger, and the five-year-olds are the Elephants, because they are biiiig! These three classes are often combined for school activities like recess, and they all get to know one another throughout the school year. The same teacher stays with the students throughout the first three years.
The women sitting before us were introduced as the adults our children would be interacting with at the school. The older woman was Viky, who will be Nora's primary teacher for the next three years. People who choose her profession must, by their very nature, be endearing and affectionate, but this lady seems extra sweet. My first impression of her was excellent. She had made the effort to learn all the kids' names before even meeting them was a nice touch (she even identified some parents by their facial features, e.g. "You must be [so-and-so]'s father!"), which was how she knew to say hello to Nora. Two of the other women were introduced as the teachers of the older two classes. I didn't take notes, but another woman was some sort of developmental psychologist, and there was one that was a "religion teacher" (I'm guessing she only teaches one). Another was a speech therapist sort of person to evaluate language acquisition, and there might have been one other that I forget. Several of them rotate between several schools in the region.
Her teacher, Viky, expressed several things she needs from us that she thinks are very important. First of all, like the dentist told us, never make going to school part of a punishment, and never, ever, ever use the teacher as an enforcer (e.g. "If you do that again, I'm going to tell Viky!"). Seems reasonable. Also, she said that it's extremely important that we be punctual to class and to read to our children every day. She told us that many parents dismiss the importance of the preschool years as useless since there is no studying and no exams, but she said that she thinks they might be even more important than later years, since the child's personality and sense of self is taking shape. She added, "Of course all of us here think that, since this is what we've chosen to dedicate our lives to."
We were told about optional services like the cafeteria lunches and the people who will look after kids that have to be dropped an hour or two early so their parents can make it to work on time. The latter is organized by the town hall, and the former is from a catering company. Due to shifts in the regional government after the spring elections, however, no catering company has been awarded the contract yet, so they couldn't tell us any prices. We're not planning to use either of those services.
School starts on Thursday, September 13th. I rather like the idea of starting with a two day week. All of the kids in the entire school only go during the mornings in September, and then start with morning and afternoon in October. The freshman class eases even more gently from the hot summer into the icy scholastic water.
For the first two days, the kids are divided up into three groups of 8, 8 and 9 children, chosen based on who they know from their daycare. The first day, they only go for a half hour, with the parents in the classroom the entire time. The second day, they go in alone with the parents waiting outside.
The next full week, they go with the same small groups for a full hour. The first three days of the following week, there are only two groups of 12 and 13 kids, and they go for 90 minutes. The final two days of the adaptation period they go all 3.5 hours in the morning all together in one class of 25 students. By then it's October and they go the full five hour schedule, from 9:30 to 13:00 and from 15:00 to 16:30.
Preempting complaints, she told us that some parents think the adaptation period is a waste of time and that "My kid will be fine!", but that sometimes it's the kids that do best at daycare that have the hardest time adapting and sometimes the kids that have never gone to daycare do fine. Even so, it's important that the kids that do fine be there because they make up the environment that the kids that aren't so fine need to habituate to. Again, very reasonable and well explained. Have I mentioned I like Viky?
One item we are asked to bring rather surprised me. We have to bring a group photo of our nuclear family. These photos are placed on a cork board in one corner of the room. The teacher says that the kids spend hours there staring at the photo of their parents, and find comfort in the fact that, while Mommy and Daddy aren't with them physically, their photo is there to keep them company. At this point some dust flew into my eye and I had to wipe away a tear. She said that the kids also like showing their family to the other children, often saying things like, "This is my older brother; he's mean," and she's lost count of the number of times she's had to respond affirmatively to the question, "Look! Isn't my Mommy pretty?" Seems like another clever idea.
The teacher gave us a laminated sheet with all the kids' photos and names. It's clearly what she's been using to study up on everyone's name. There are fifteen boys and ten girls. All the girls have unique names, but many of the boys have the same name. There are 2 Hugos, 2 Lucases, 2 Diegos and 3 Marios! Wow.
We all signed up for a time to have a half hour parent-teacher chat, preferably with both parents, next week before school starts. The purpose is for Viky to pick our brains about our child's habits, likes, dislikes, fears, favorite activities, etc., information which becomes invaluable to her at the beginning of the school year, as well as to get a sense of what we, the parents, are like. Again, seems like a great idea.
When I called my wife to ask if the time I'd randomly chosen seemed okay, she got worried. "Why do we have to meet with the teacher without Nora there? Already?" "She meets with all the parents like that." "Oh, phew!" She'd thought Nora was in trouble already…on Day # -7. It just shows how nervous we are.
After we had all our pamphlets we headed to go see the classroom. I was very impressed. It's quite large and is subdivided into various activity zones. There's a couch with some books, a make-believe area with a toy kitchen, an area with clothes to play dress up, a crafts section, and more! In one corner of the room there's a door that opens to a small bathroom, so the kids have quick access when nature calls without having to wander the halls.
Nora was extremely delighted with the classroom. She's very enthused about starting school.