Jake’s first day at school yesterday. I couldn’t have been more nervous. It was as bad as leaving Basil at the vets for an operation. If I could have done it for him, I would have done! Madame Tasty, the head teacher (really Madame Teyssié, but it really sounds like Madame Tasty!) had said she thought it was better for Jake to go in alone. As a teacher, I get what she’s saying. Mostly, teachers are a nice breed, even ‘Vile’ pointy Jackie who I used to work with, who said ‘that boy is vile’ at least 20 times a day… if she’d have had a new, non-English speaking pupil who looked a bit terrified in her class, she’d have looked after him. Dawson would have probably sneered a bit and treated such a child the same as everyone else, but he was too scared of being called a bully to show his superiority in such a way. To be fair, Dawson would have used anyone’s weakness, whatever it was, as a way to assert his mastery… making fat kids do more PE – that sort of thing. But neither Madame Tasty or Madame Delhomme, Jake’s teacher, are like that. Madame Tasty has a point. Full immersion will make him learn quicker (or make him hate it completely) and turning up with me in tow when you’re almost secondary school age would make you look a bit of a special. Kids are going to think you’re a mental and not talk to you.
As a guardian, though, I felt like I was taking him to the slaughter, following prolonged and agonised torture. I explained that the worst that could happen is they put him at the front of the class and laugh at him in French and that that wasn’t going to happen. And it didn’t. I explained that French kids love a stare. And they did. Apparently the boy next to him stared a lot! He kept looking at Jake’s writing – which is different from the lovely curly French writing.
I dropped him off at the school gates, and he was a little tearful. Madame Delhomme found him some friends and both she and Madame Tasty helped him out. Both Steve and I spent the morning worrying if he’d be okay, though I knew they’d spend the morning sorting out folders and putting their name on things, which they did. Schools are predictable places.
At lunchtime, he seems okay. Not upset. Wants to get back to school early to play with the other kids. A triumph. No, he hadn’t understood much, but he’d managed to make it through and had done what everyone else had done. He’d played out at break and he’d played football. It’s all good. He wolfed down half a pizza, went off for some milk from the local supermarket (they have a newly installed vending machine, which he loves. Apparently, the milk tastes like ‘English Milk’ – whatever that tastes like!) and was in a panic when he got back because he thought they’d all gone in, but really they were just finishing their lunch.
So we felt a whole lot better about dropping him off after lunch. He seemed okay. When we picked him up, he was fine, too. They’d done sport all afternoon, and played some games, like I used to do in drama, to help people get to know each other. He was very tired – I’m not surprised. It had been a big day!
Then the panic began about what they’ll be doing today. He’s very worried that they’ll spend all day doing difficult questions based on complex text, but that’s not going to be true. I’ve started translating his reading book, and if it were in English, he’d have no problem. I have no doubt by Christmas, his french will be fine. But it’s still a painful process to watch it – and I know there will be hiccups and set-backs. But, each day, he’ll know a little more French, and each day he’ll build up his friendships, and each day it will be a little more familiar. But that’s not reassuring to a terrified boy who might as well be in a class with Martians! Still, the worst day is out of the way. It’ll get easier and easier, I’m sure of it.