I Love Positivity In American Schools!

American positivity in schools

For what it’s worth, here is a brief account of my experience with positivity in American schools.

Two of my children have attended American schools for four years. I couldn’t be happier with our experience. Teachers at their daycare and elementary schools are professional, nice to children, and very encouraging.

When my children arrived in the States, they didn’t speak any English. For Pauline, this was not a big deal since she was only 2. But, Yann went straight to pre-K and had to complete homework every other week. The first time he came home with an assignment, I was speechless. Homework? My four-year-old boy was supposed to write letters and count, but he had no idea how to held a pencil!

Yes, that’s possible when your children grow up in Germany. There, the educational philosophy for younger ages is to let children be children. They have more than enough time to be confronted to the serious of life, say most German parents. As a result, some parents will even defer starting school for their children by pretending that they are not mature enough. Usually, every child turning six before June 30 is supposed to start elementary school the following fall. But, I personally know many children who went to school at age seven and a half.

Reading between the lines?

When my son brought back his first homework package, I addressed my concerns with Ms. Crystal, Yann’s teacher. She told me, “Don’t worry, Ms. Portier. Yann will catch up very soon, and we will pay special attention to his writing.”

At the time, I didn’t feel reassured, but both she and Ms. Jenny were incredibly encouraging and supportive of his efforts. In fact, they were so supportive that I doubted his progress!

To get a better sense of what was going on, I asked for a parent meeting. I started by explaining that as a non-American, I could barely read between the lines. I asked the teacher for frank answers, which she provided. Yann was doing a good job and had caught up rapidly. He entered kindergarten the day he turned 5 and will attend third grade after the summer.

American positivity vs. German directness

Since my youngest children are both in elementary school, I’ve met different teachers with various personalities, ages, and backgrounds. But, they share a strong dedication to their job and an amazing sense of positivity. Maybe our family was just lucky to have found this kind of school environment.

Yann’s oldest sister graduated last month from the German School in Washington, after spending all of her school life in the German education system. She went to three different schools, where I met a lot of German teachers. Overall, they are exhaustively serious, which probably won’t surprise you. But, they are also more focused on finding areas for improvement than pointing out the child’s strengths.

After experiencing both American and the German school systems, I’m glad that my youngest ones are encouraged to do better every day at their American school. I appreciate that they are taught to believe in themselves and can present in front of the class already.

With my stepchildren, who moved to the States in January and also started attending American schools, I see the same phenomenon. Americans often look for something positive to say. Perhaps I haven’t yet learned how to read between the lines?

In any case, I appreciate honesty about both progress and weaknesses. But, I prefer when that’s conveyed in the American way.

Photo credit by Olly

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  • I had the same experience as an American mom when I sent my two children, now in their 40s, to public schools in Maryland: their teachers built on the skills in which my children excelled, gave support and practice for the skills in which they struggled, and taught both of them to believe in their ability to overcome all obstacles. In contract, my siblings and I attended Catholic schools in the various port towns in which my father was assigned while he served in the U.S. Navy. We were taught almost exclusively by nuns. Rules and expectations in the classroom were iron-clad. Lessons were taught to the whole class at the same time, not in small groups separated by ability or interests. Class sizes were around 35-40 students with no classroom assistants. Tests were administered regularly, reading assignments were heavy and grading was not ever done on a curve. We were expected to read throughout most of the day and do a comparable amount of writing afterwards. I have no idea what kids with “special needs” did during those years in Catholic schools but as far as I could see, they sure did not show up in my classrooms! Amazingly, I actually look back on these experiences with great affection! Though a B student through most of elementary and high school, when I went to college, I was amazed to see that I easily got straight As! Those nuns had taught me how to read, write, think, accept responsibility for my own assignments, produce high quality work and stick with any task, no matter how hard. They taught me a love for learning and made me into a life-long reader. They also modeled for me the beauty of dedicating ones life to a cause (teaching children as a way of loving God) without expecting riches or rewards in return. My fifth grade teacher, Sr. Mary, is largely responsible for my choice to become a teacher myself. When I finished reading all the SRA leveled books in our English and Reading classes, she took me to her secret bookcase behind her desk and gave me James Fenimore Cooper’s “Life of the Mohicans”. It was full of violence, sex, big words that I had to look up in the dictionary and adventure much more gripping than “See Dick. See Jane. See Spot run.”

    • My mom went also in France to Catholic schools. What you described here sounds familiar: a strict, rules-loving education but in a certain way efficient.

  • It would be wrong from my part to say that I am not partly agree with the statement, but somehow this positivity attitude is very similar to the entire american model… and it is from my point of view not inovative and do not prouve any real engagement… It is definitively easier for the educators to concentrate on the strenght of the children and develop them instead of entering in a conflictual relationship in battleing their weakest areas. At the end of the year this is a clear success and everyone is happy. A “winner only buidling society should have only successful persons…. How many poors do we have in the US? 10% -15%… how many do have to work with 2 or 3 or more jobs in a day… The point is that the entire amercan society is so much accomodate with that, that no revolution happen any more… Except educated students who tried to stay above the middle level… and demonstrate against the absurdity of university costs… Should it means that only when you have learned it you can revolt yourself?

    • Thank you Toto for your honest comment. Your point is interesting, even if I wouldn’t mix up positivity with the winner mentality so typical for the US.

  • America gets a lot wrong but one thing we get right is the positivity thing. This is so important in our younger years. Children should be encouraged and made to feel good about themselves from a young age. I only have experience w/French schools and not German ones, as a teaching assistant and not a parent, but teachers were strict and allowed no room for creativity. It made me sad how teachers treated kids as young as 7 or 8. I’m sure all systems have their pros and cons but I’m with you. I may be biased because I did all my schooling in the US. 😉

    • Something I’ve learned in the last 17 years: as a mother, I’m growing with my children when it comes to school stuff. I’m lucky to luve in a very educated area with some of the best schools in the country.
      I have 4 kids in respectively elementary, middle and soon high school. Elementary school is great but I’m not impressed by our middle school (the one with highest rating). Great teachers, staff, and facilities but I need more time to adapt to the lesrning nethods and grad system.
      As you stated: there are pros and cons everywhere!
      Thank you for your comment Diane

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