Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Love and war at school

School restarted in September and Nina got lucky though with a newly arrived teacher, Delphine. Nina was now in the top class of maternelle, or Grand section, and absolutely loved school. Within a few weeks she had fallen in love with a new boy in the class, Dorian. He was trilingual and had a Spanish-speaking mother, Gina, who was married to a French man and Dorian had attended English school before starting at the French school. When Delphine put on a class show displaying folk dances and Nina and Dorian danced together like Ginger and Fred.

Dorian became a frequent companion on trips to the park or museums, gallantly buying Nina an orange juice in the café one time and bringing her a pink silk scarf from a trip to Paris. Unfortunately Dorian played more with Marc when he came to our house, and the two boys would sneak off together to ride bikes or play in the pool, leaving sulky Nina all on her own. One weekend he invited himself for a sleepover, and Marc and Nina fought to have him in their rooms. In the end he bunked with Marc. But after a few months Dorian declared his undying love for two other pretty girls in the class. When asked which one he would marry he announced that he would marry all three, like some of Muslims do in certain parts of Malaysia. Nina was horrified and refused to share him, and dropped him like a hot stone.

Marc was in CM1, with the same teacher who taught Nina when we first arrived in 2003. I had not got on with Madame Chapeau then and it didn’t seem like this would be a good year for Marc either. I met the teacher in the playground one day after school just after the year had started. I bonjoured her, as one does and she replied ‘Hello’. I asked in French ‘Is everything OK with Marc’ and she replied ‘He is mixing up his English with his French’. The conversation continued with me speaking French and her replying in English, as though she didn’t understand my French. I was furious.

A few weeks later Marc had a punition, or a punishment, and had to write ‘Je n’ai pas droit de parler en anglais en classe’ (I am not allowed to speak English in class) fifty times, because he had spoken English to his friend, Adam, in class. Marc told me she often punished children who chatted in English in class. It was a problem because about half the class was bilingual and although they could speak French they chose not too, which annoyed Madame Chapeau even more. At the class talk for parents I found her aggressive and often rude to parents, but she was friendly with several influential parents and teachers and I knew if I complained to higher powers it would get me nowhere. But I disliked her nevertheless…

On top of this Marc’s English marks plummeted and I had to talk to the English teacher, a French woman. She explained how she had two levels: ‘just arrived in KL beginners’ and ‘bilinguals, those who have a foreign parent or have lived here a long time’. She preferred teaching the beginners. I got the distinct impression she was sick of all the annoying bored bilinguals who could talk the hind legs off a donkey but had terrible grammar. She said Marc spent his hour making paper aeroplanes or scribbling messy stories that she couldn’t read. I tried to talk to Marc, who didn’t care at all about his English grades, and said that English lessons were ‘nul’ or worth nothing anyway….

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