Thursday, April 23, 2009

A parent-teacher meeting--or--The glories of besciamella

Dear Readers,

The other day I attended a meeting at Giacomo's school. I must say that I am overall very pleased with the public school my children attend--I find their teachers warm and loving, the program satisfactory and attuned to the children's age-level and individual needs, and there is this touching atmosphere of what I can only describe as sweetness that pervades.

My son, who's in first grade (or prima) has the typical tag-team dual teacher classroom that, for now, all elementary schools use. His teachers are Vanna and Stefania, and they are experienced and wonderful, having worked together for many years. Vanna has a disheveled mop of curly gray and white hair, an arrestingly simpatica face dominated by laugh-lines, sports bright orange and red eyeglasses, and tends to wear clothes in shades of blue and purple. Stefania, herself the mother of 7 children, is a bit younger, with no-fuss short dark hair, and a face that looks pleasantly like a squirrels'. Vanna's voice is soothing and husky, while Stefania's is high and strident--kind of a vocal yin and yang. Vanna imparts primarily Italian, and Stefania math. (There are separate teachers for English and Religion. Religion gets 2 hours a week, English 1--in this global age I think Italy has its priorities skewed a bit here).

At the meeting (surprisingly, not many parents were in attendance), Vanna and Stefania updated us on the class's progress. The academics follow a national program (Italy's school system is centralized), and the kids have been on track, except for math. Stefania reported that they are lagging a tad behind on the math program as a group, but that she prefers it this way, stating quite reasonably that math skills are acquired step by step, each building on the other, and that if things are rushed when the kids are showing they need extra time, next year in second grade they may find themselves having to spend time reviewing, a more difficult process. You see, in Italian elementary schools, the same teachers are with you from first grade through fifth. (So, quite logically, Stefania was attuning her math lessons to her class's needs, knowing that she can "catch them up" next Fall. The flip side is that if your class is showing precociousness in one area, you can give them more challenging work. I think this is a very positive aspect of Italy's school system). Of course, if you get bad teachers, you're stuck with them for a long time. But if you get good ones, it's a boon--nice because the kids, at a tender age, develop a familiarity and relationship with their teachers that supports them through their academic endeavors. They don't have to waste time or wrack their nerves over getting used to so many new classmates, and a new teacher, every year.

Once academics were dispensed with, the meeting addressed class comportment. Overall, the kids behave quite well given their age, we were told. The only trouble area was mensa, or lunchtime. Apparently, the kids are not always "showing the proper respect to food," this being made clear by their mutilating poor defenseless fruit or spearing fresh mozzarella with their forks and waving it around in militant fashion, and other culinary misdeeds. The meeting then degenerated--as happens in Italy--into a lengthy talk about food. The teachers reported the class's eating habits--how much they ate, the estimated collective appetite, etc. (They were somewhat scandalized that the class eats so little, on the whole. But, they conceded--with deep dual shrugs--the kids seem healthy and energetic enough despite this). Then a Neopolitan mom spoke up in the class's defense, saying that she thought the lunch menu was boring and repetitive, lacking in spicy/tasty items, and it was this that was likely causing a kind of collective gastronomic ennui among the children, and hence their disrespectful behavior. She suggested that besciamella (béchamel sauce) be served on the pasta--this being a favorite of her son--and thence was launched a heated debate on the merits and practicalities of cooking and serving besciamella on an institutional scale, its high calorie content, its relative heaviness, its life-affirming properties, the fact that not all kids like it. A parent pointed out that when the kids are served lasagne, there's besciamella in that, and they love it. "Yes! Yes! It's true! Everyone likes lasagne!" chanted the parents. Then, parents with kids who love mensa spoke up, saying things like, "Alessandro tells me 'Mamma, you can only dream of cooking food as well as they do at mensa,'" or "Giulia says 'ma quant'è bona la mensa, Mamma!" On and on it went, a gastronomic tennis match, the mensa ball being lobbed back and forth endlessly. Finally, my head numb, and after looking at my watch for the fiftieth time (I had to buy groceries and get dinner on, see), the meeting was adjourned.

Yours in besciamella solidarity,


1 comment:

  1. Amazing the obsession with food! It seems so stereotypical.


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