I think I have mentioned before the penchant that French school children have for school supplies. Despite their love of rebellion, French schools are strongholds of graph paper, rulers, perfect penmanship, and color-coded grading systems. Every student has at least 2 different pencil cases, one for daily class work and one for artistic endeavors. No kid comes to class without pens in every color, white out, glue stick, ruler, compass, and colored pencils. One time I asked if anyone had a tissue, and suddenly 30 personal packs of Kleenex were removed from backpacks and handed forward.
I am the weak link in this world of scholastic perfection. I have no pencil case, thus I am forever losing my red pen, leaving me to grade in green, which throws all the students into a frenzy as teachers grade in red. I just recently got a ruler, and my slanted lines puzzled my pupils. Every time I have to borrow someone’s glue, scissors, or red pen, my students shake their heads and someone will pipe up with advice that I should buy a pencil case. Eventually, I will probably cave. I think I want one of the ones that has all the cursive letters on the outside, because the French make theirs differently than I learned . . . and I haven’t written in cursive since 6th grade. I have finally mastered most of the letters, but a couple still elude me, leading to the occasional mockery by a pack of 7 year olds. The other day one of the girls I babysit for forgot her homework. This led to me sitting on he phone scribbling madly while a mother dictated to me 2 full pages of a reading assignment. I was then forced to copy over multiple lines by the 10 year old tyrant who recommended that I used graph paper next time to make it neater. I also gave a quiz last week, cautioning students that anyone who talked during class would receive a check on their paper and when I graded them I would see it and remove a half point. One especially chatty kid received a check. When I passed by shortly after I saw that he had used white out to cover it up. When I demanded why, he said very politely that I hadn’t made it neatly and it made his whole paper look messy.
Someday, all of my pupils will grow up to be typical French citizens. They will go on strike at the drop of a hat, they will cut in line, they will smoke flagrantly next to the no smoking signs. Yet I have seen French adults pull pencil cases from their bags and their handwriting still bears witness of years spent on graph paper with ruler close at hand.