When I was in primary school in Sweden in the late 70-ies, pupils used to take turn to be the monitor of the week. Here in his Catalan school, our oldest son has just had the chance to be the protagonista de la setmana. Since he is not yet four years old, his duties were limited to be first in line when the class went out for breaks. That did not diminish how special he felt – partly thanks to me.
Children start school early in Spain. Unless you sign up your children at the age of three, you have small chances to get them into any of the good publicly financed schools. About a year ago we were very fortunate to discover our oldest son’s name on the list of children accepted to a half-private (concertada) school with a very good reputation.
To Swedes, Spanish schools come across as quite closed. From when the school day starts at 9 a.m. until it finishes at 4.45 p.m., the school gates remain locked. It feels safe that outsiders are not let in, but at the same time a bit excluding that we are not able to observe what is going on inside the class room. True, we have had individual evaluation meetings with our son’s teacher as well as a meeting with the other parents, but far from the open-doors and parents’ days which are common in Sweden.
However, maybe this is just a cultural difference on how we expect to receive information. Our son spends the whole day in school since, as typical Swedes, both my wife and I have our professional careers. Most of his class mates go home for lunch, so for parents who have the time, this allows for four, albeit short, daily meetings with the teacher. People here usually need much less of a common interest than school to start to talk to each other. It would not surprise me if my wife and I in fact are the only parents of the class who are not up-dated on what is going on. We simply have not yet learnt to make use of social networking but expect formal invitations, like in Sweden.
For the opportunity to take part in the the school activities, I looked forward to our son’s turn as protagonista. Still, these were mixed emotions because as the parent of the protagonista you are supposed to hold a class with the children. While I am used to making presentations for grown-ups in Spanish, this was the first time I had to do it for small children and, as an additional challenge, in Catalan. My wife was quite happy to avoid the Catalan part and instead put together a collage of family photos.
Luckily enough, I did get a smooth initiation. Since I had already taken a day off, I did not hesitate to help out as an accompanying parent when the teacher took the whole class for a visit to Vilanova’s train station in the morning. My son was much less intimidated by having me in the classroom than I thought he would be. I could have felt a bit hurt when he asked his teacher, and not me, for a glass of water, but I was too proud listening to his perfect Catalan.
My own language test came in the afternoon. Faithful to my plan, I started with some comments on our family’s background, but it turned out that the whole class already new that Melker is Swedish. Well, what else can you expect in a class with only two foreigners? Then we moved over to talk about how to lay a table – my personal adaptation of “my work”, a more typical presentation topic.
It turned out that, in theory, all the children were fully aware that we do not wipe off greasy hands neither on our clothes nor on the tablecovers but on paper or napkins. We practiced to put glasses, plates and cutlery in the right positions on the table and then I was not allowed to finish folding napkins before all pupils had received their own. This was time consuming but for my son this was probably the best part of it all. He was helping me by proudly presenting his class mates with napkins and other products which I had brought.
I know that our son enjoyed being protagonista for a week and above all the day when I took part in the class room. I grateful to his teacher for helping me with the language of my manuscript and, even more, for helping me out with all the words which I had not prepared but urgently needed in the middle of the presentation. Somehow I must have managed to make myself understood. Before, if I ever addressed my son in Catalan at home, he angrily informed me that “we speak Swedish here”. Now he has started to add that I am allowed to speak Catalan, as long as I do it in his school.