For those who haven’t seen the movie “The Class,” it is a semi autobiographical account of a year that François Bégaudeau spent teaching at an inner city Paris middle school. In it, there was a scene where the teachers are having an annual meeting to discuss student progress; who was in trouble, who deserved a commendation, etc. To my surprise, two students were present at the meeting as “class representatives.” This had plot related implications (excluded to avoid spoiling anything).
My question is this: Would it be normal for students to be present at such a teacher meeting in France? Would it be normal in the US?
My impression is that the answer is “no,” at least for the US. The privacy implications alone are distressing. I had a french friend with me at the movie and she was also surprised, but most of her schooling was in the US.
It would be normal in Spain. Actually, the election of such representatives is considered an essential part of “growing up in democracy.”
From grade 6 to 8, my class of 40 had the following “delegates:”
2 Class Delegates, who would, among other things, represent the class in PTA meetings and in teachers’ meetings like the one described in the OP.
2 Sports Delegates (one male, one female), shared with the other group of 40 with whom we shared Phys Ed.
1 Library Delegate, who picked up book requests from classmates, reminded classmates to bring back due books, and got and returned books to the library.
1 Festivals Delegate, who liaisoned with the music teacher for school festivals.
Grades 4-5 and 9-12, only the two regular Class Delegates.
Unlike in the US, each “class” group took all classes together; the teachers moved from room to room, not the students. The only teachers who didn’t move were those who got special locations, like the Art Room or the Gym. We knew perfectly well who was doing badly, who was doing well, who needed help, who had a bad attitude. I was extremely surprised when I got to the US (Grad School) at how unnatural teamwork seemed to US students; we’d pretty much lived in each other’s pockets… or rather, notebooks; we were used to doing every single exercise in the book without being ordered to and pooling resources to solve those that resisted, US students would never have done anything they viewed as liable to “skew the curve” (we weren’t graded on a curve, so what skewing?) and wouldn’t help another student for free, ever. The only time they collaborated was when ordered to do so, and they didn’t know how to divide work (step one of teamwork, promise).
The first time I was set to tutor a classmate was aged 4. I was one of 3 students in the class who’d gotten to kindergarten being able to read, the student I got to help is heavily dyslexic (her whole family is). The Delegates know things about other students’ situations (who has time out of school hours, who doesn’t, whose houses are most open to visitors) which can, among other things, help set up outside-school-hours tutoring (most of the tutoring I’ve done on teachers’ orders has been during school hours).
Yes, perfectly normal, beginning at grade 6. The evaluation meeting depicted happens every three months, not yearly, even though the last “teacher’s council” of the year is the most important, since they get to decide what will happen to the student the following year (like ending in a vocational school, or doing the same grade again, etc…). Two representatives of the parents are also present (well…at least, normally they should).
A 11 year old representative won’t do or say much, generally speaking, apart maybe mention some peculiar practical issue, but a 17 yo in high school might be very willing to fight tooth and nail on behalf of a classmate and could very well influence the decision providing he’s wise enough to pick his battles. 6th graders will probably elect whoever is the most popular, but I can tell you that by grade 11 classmates will put some thought into whom they’re going to choose. I’ve seen a guy neither popular, nor charismatic, nor a good student elected two years in a row nearly unanimously because he was obviously effective as a representative.
I was elected once when I was 13 or so, because, IIRC, I had the best grades and as a result classmates assumed teachers would pay more attention to what I would say. Unfortunately, I was way too shy for the “job” and mostly kept quiet. I lost another election by one vote, my own, because I assumed that polite people don’t vote for themselves (I strongly suspect that my mother had instilled this strange concept in me), and remember having been mightily pissed off when I learnt that my competitor had shamelessly voted for himself. Note that actually he was a better pick than me, as noted above.
Note that those representatives in turn elect two representatives at the whole high school level, who get to sit at the school board, are present during disciplinary hearings, etc…
Wow, it feels alien to me. Thanks for the information.
At the college level students often have slots on disciplinary committees in the US, but that works in part because the student bodies are so large; it’s probably rare for a student to sit in judgment of someone they know. At the middle and high school level, grades are usually kept fairly private.
Most American teachers assume that their students’ performance on each test will be normally distributed around a satisfactory average. Instead of specifying a the scoring structure ahead of time (90% = A, 80% = B, etc.), they will wait until the test has been taken and scored, assign a “C” to the average score, and assign the other grades based on the distribution (or they’ll try – most teachers don’t know enough statistics to do this).
In order to avoid ruining their friends’ grades, the smarter students will sometimes conspire to avoid high scores, thus bringing down the average to a level that lets B students get an A. Any students who get very high scores are then accused of “skewing the curve.”
Oh man, the conseil de classe. In Cameroon (which had a French-based education system) this meeting morphed into a day long trial in the searing heat where we discussed the lives of thousands of students in endless detail.
One thing to remember is that some system is not concerned with privacy. Grades are public information and are out there for everyone to see. Everyone knows their rank in the class for each subject. In Cameroon, we’d read the three highest scoring students and three lowest scoring students in each class’s names during public assemblies. It always seemed like needless humiliation to me, but nobody else saw a problem with it.
We did not have students present at our counseil de classe, but our student representatives for each class did have a lot of power and responsibility. For example, when there were discipline hearings, there would be representatives from the students, the parents, the administration and the teachers. Everyone would get to speak their piece and vote.
Many schools in the US decide beforehand how many of each type of grade they’ll give. For example, “only one A,” which means the best student gets one A (even if he got a 45% in the test!) but nobody else will.
Helping your classmates means that the average will get higher.