Thursday, December 17, 2015

To the parents who think it is unfair

I was not a competitive student as a child. That metamorphosis didn't take place until college, and it wasn't pretty - just ask any classmate who ever asked to borrow my notes and got his or her head bitten off. I don't recall any serious exams or competitions that we had in elementary or even high school - excluding my driving exam at 16 which was pretty memorable. Kids in Polish schools today have the opportunity to take part in a lot of academic competitions, really, a lot. There are notices on the bulletin boards outside the classrooms. Posters for various competitions, often called Olympics, are taped to the glass doors. Kids bring home flyers from their teachers and sometimes from the organizers of the competitions. Announcements are made on the school webpage and on the electronic gradebook. We get direct e-mails from the teachers requesting our children's participation.

Participation is voluntary. There are those children who cannot wait to show off their skills and knowledge and are glad to have the opportunity to do so. Other children could not care less. They are not interested in sitting a test or preparing with the "team". Some kids do it to get a higher grade out of their teacher at the end of the semester or at the insistence of a parent. Some kids cannot be persuaded by any form of force or bribery, not even as practice for the "real" exams they will take in the future. That's all good. I don't have any problem with that.

I just have something to say to the parents who think it is unfair that my child competed in the English Olympics grades 1-3.

Firstly, this particular English Olympics is run by a company, not the Department of Education. It is a crap test given for a fee intended to justify all those Helen Doron courses parents spend money on.

Secondly, my kids are Polish. They were born in Poland. They go to a Polish school. They had a Polish nanny when they were little. Yes, they have American passports as well, but they have been to America twice for short trips. Maybe you parents have been on vacation to America or Great Britain or Australia for a week or two. Did your kids manage to learn enough English to give them an "unfair advantage"? No? Neither did mine.

Thirdly, the fact that my children speak English at all is a miracle. Well, it is not really miraculous at all. It is pure work. My children speak Polish all day long. They learn in Polish. They read in Polish. They watch TV in Polish. They fight in Polish. They dream in Polish. How many hours a day do you spend with your children? I, as many parents unfortunately, spend very few as I work evenings. Of those hours you spend with your children, how many of them are actual meaningful engagement between you. One? Two? Less than that?

My kids have English at school, the same as your children 2x45 minutes per week. Last year Lizzie had 6 different teachers - 6. Rosie's teacher pronounced birthday as bearzday. They were not covering any material that they should. I had a lot of calls from parents wanting me to teach their children privately - parents who on the most part could speak English and definitely on a level high enough to teach their own 8-year-old. 

I force my children to read in English, to watch TV in English, to learn new words in English. This is what I recommend to all parents when they ask me what they should do and to all my students who are parents. It is not something you have to be American to do. Yes, I speak to them in English. They answer me in Polish. When they speak English, they say things like "drinked", "goed", "don't can", "sanged". Not to mention saying a sentence in English with all nouns in Polish - Today Pani gived us karteczka to take do domu. We have to kolorować the karteczka and give it back to Pani jutro. If we don't gived it jutro, we gets jedynka in the książka. Very English, wouldn't you agree?

Believe me parents, if you put as much effort into your child's English as I do, your child would speak English almost as well as mine. I do it for them, but I do it for me too. Can you imagine not sharing a language with your children? As a mother, not speaking to your baby in your own language? I don't do it to spite you. I don't do it so my kids will come out on top in the English exams. Lizzie has never participated in those exams because she is not interested at all. Her philosophy is that she is awesome, no need to prove it. Rosie participated last year at the insistence of her teacher, and this year declared she's not interested. Again at the insistence of her teacher, she signed up, and we paid the fees. Last year Rosie didn't even catch on that is was an English exam. The first question, read aloud by the instructor, was - "What color is a hippo?" with choices of pink, green, grey, and purple. Rosie said, "Who doesn't know what color a hippo is?" "It was an English exam, Rosie." "Ooooohhhh," says Rosie.

So parents, zip it. When my child doesn't want to sing Silent Night at the school show, it's because she doesn't know it, not any more than your child. And when my child gets a good score on the English exam, congratulate her - a lot of hard work stands behind that success.


Iwona A. said...

I totally understand you Chris. I know personally people who used to live in the US, their kids were born there and they went back to Poland when their oldest was 10. Everybody at the school thought he had a big advantage but after a few years it became apparent that it was actually very difficult for him to keep it up. And he had to learn Polish as well, because his language was a bit like your daughters'.
My son, here in Scotland, had opportunity to sit his higher exams (matura) in Polish language, teachers thought it would be a great idea but my son was totally the opposite. And he was right. He's got a big gap in his grammar knowledge, because he left Poland before they started teaching proper grammar and he came to Scotland after all have been already taught (education in Scotland starts at 5). He's third year informatics student now and funny enough, only now had he learn about nouns, verbs, adjectives and all that stuff, for his programming exams.
I personally find it quite hilarious when my non-English friends talk to their children in their mother tongue and children answer in English. And speak all mixed sentences, like yours.

Stardust said...

I can't even find words to comment. Adults are the worst animals:)
I mean how stupid you have to be, how low self esteem have to compete with children.
No, I did get the post correctly, but I think all these parents who think your children shouldn't compete in English because they have special advantage, all these parents are total idiots.

ds said...

Chris THANK YOU so much, I'm so relieved to know not only my son mixes up his two languages and pronounces wrong a lot of Polish words (even if I correct him every time). and I completely agree with you. That he speaks Polish is a pure miracle and a lot of my hard work, and we do spend 2-3 weeks in Poland twice a year. You are RIGHT and people know nothing.

and 2 makes crazy said...

and i can't stand that the english teacher gives my daughter extra english homework because it's her family's language---i said to him---polish isn't! so while all polish children are finishing their polish homework in 30 minutes, we're still working on hers for 3 hours---yet you want to give her extra ENGLISH homework because she's at an advantage???!!!

makes me so angry.

you're not alone.

kudos to your kids for achieving well in school and competitions. :) :) :)

Chris said...

Iwona - I try to explain to my children that they have Polish in school just like I had English at school and if they want to be English speakers we have to make up this "English" at home. They remain unconvinced. If we had to go to America suddenly for some reason, they'd have problems at school for sure.

Star - I agree!

ds - You are very welcome and thank you for the support! I don't know what kind of learning materials there are for teaching Polish, but my kids know that Murphy's "Grammar In Use" is in their future. Will you be having a French or a Polish Christmas this year?

and 2 - We had to write opis yesterday of Piotr from Narnia. It was so hard...for me. Our English teacher doesn't give our girls additional homework, but she relies on them heavily in class to sing the loudest and read aloud. Kudos to your daughter as well. Keep up the good work!

czarownica said...

From my experience I know how difficult is to keep the native language in a foreign environment, but we've managed it and my adult daughters are practically bilingual. And during the secondary school there were simultaneously learning and sitting exams in English, French, German and Polish - still don't know how they avoided going mad :)
They both sat A-levels (matura) in Polish and passed with top grades, but it wouldn't be achievable without Polish Saturday School, where they had structured lessons and exam preparations. Speaking Polish at home wouldn't be enough.

slawekk said...

> Kids in Polish schools today have the opportunity to take part in a lot of academic competitions

This is a bit tangential to the main post subject, but I would like to mention that I consider it a good thing, when it is the case. In the elementary school my kids attended there were very few outside competitions, and participation in those that the teachers decided to support was often treated as reward for good behavior. I remember my daughter crying when after several months of preparations for some Greek mythology competition the teacher congratulated some students on participation, while my daughter was not given a chance. I can not quote here the things my daughter said, enough to say I got familiar with the "brown nosers" expression then.

I remember my participation in Mathematical Olympiad in high school that allowed me to bypass my math teacher's opinion on my math skills and get an automatic entrance to any university. That would not be possible now when it is up to the teacher to decide if a student can compete. I am worried that with the changes planned by the new ruling party (no external exams) the school system will become more air-tight and there will be no recourse in case of teachers with personality disorders or just plain psychotic ones (I remember such case).

Chris said...

czar - Congrats to you Mom for preserving the language for your daughters. I know how much work it must have cost you. I wish there was something similar to Polish school in English;) There are plenty of international schools with all subjects in English, but then we'd be back where we started with one language winning out over the other. We're planning to have an English Christmas.

slawekk - I mentioned that kids in Polish schools have the opportunity to take part in a lot of academic competitions to set the stage for people such as myself who never had such an opportunity. For many people, that's an unfamiliar phenomenon ;) "A lot" is from my American perspective. My 7-year-old has competed in two such competitions this year. I think it's a good experience for her especially understanding the concept of test taking, preparation, failing, succeeding- all those good things we can only learn by experience.

Some high school kids I know do the serious ones as you describe. I'm sorry your daughter had to go through that. That really stinks (ha, ha brown nosers). I had always thought they chose the kids in some kind of intersection of who is interested plus who is good at that subject, teacher's pet or not. That's a real shame. Congrats on your bypassing your math teacher. The longer I teach, the more I wonder why some people I have contact with decided to be teachers and why they continue to teach. My older daughter's teacher pulled a number on her and a few other kids last week. She didn't have any problem in getting me to believe her side of the story. I've sat in too many teacher's lounges to know that all teachers are not angels. I have worked with people whose sole interest was in breaking young spirits. It's sad.

I'm a bit worried about the plans of the current ruling party in education and otherwise. I had no idea so much political business could be done at night. I thought nights were for sleeping and Star Wars premieres.

tenkris said...

To the parents having trouble with their kids learning English: I might suggest you try the free program 'Duolingo'. I find it best enjoyed on a tablet, but it can also be used on a smartphone or a PC. I've tried many different language learning methods and applications, and Duolinger is tops for me. There is no paid version to upgrade to, its 100% free.

Paddy said...

Very interesting blog and one topic that's well on my mind, with the patter of tiny feet four months' hence. So, be cool with mieszaniem languages symultanicznie, chyba I can manage.

Chris said...

Paddy- Congrats on the little feet! I will stay cool with that if you do ;) Let us know how it goes. I'm sure there are going to plenty of posts with the new baby on your blog in the future...if you find the time and energy to write!