vendredi 11 juillet 2008

The bac

photo by Delphine Bédier

I was kneeling next to the lawnmower, the Super Glue tube leaking its contents on the paving stone, swearing at the handle lock on the grass catcher that had just broken, when I heard a shout of joy from the house. Now what? A fire sale at Galeries Lafayette, with 90% off on all his favorite brands?

I felt instantaneously grumpier.


"What?" Said in that impatient and harried staccato tone best (and most often) employed by mothers everywhere.

"I got my bac results!"

Joy? Bac results? All impatience was gone in a heartbeat, and I was next to him at the computer in the next one. They are:

French written -- 13
French oral -- 12
TPE (research and presentation group project) -- 15
Earth Science -- 8

Average -- 12

That last was the sorry point in an otherwise glorious result for this young man, but this gives him 20 points advance for next year. Don't ask what that means. Maybe Sam could explain it, but I doubt he will be interested in trying.

For those who haven't followed my explanations and lamentations, the French grade out of 20 and each subject in a baccalaureate program has its own coefficient, meaning that those subjects that are most central to the subject, like French (4), History and Geography (5), and Economic Science (7) will have a higher coefficient in the Economic Science baccalaureat, "bac", than Earth Science (2), Math (5), languages (3), TPE (2) and philosophy next year (4?).

There are three "noble" baccalaureates: Science (considered the most noble, because it is determined by strength in math, and those who are best in math are generally the best in the other subjects sélon les français), Economic Science, and Literature.

There are, then, the technological baccalaureates that prepare students for careers and the "professional" baccalaureates (les bac pros), which are technical training programs.

Sam's results are considered, with the exception of Earth Science, which is also less important for him, quite good, but more importantly, they are reason for him to rejoice that he decided to repeat his year.

These results do several things for him.

First of all, they boost his ego, which can certainly use bolstering. The tendency in the "elite" private schools, and Sam's -- most interestingly, surprisingly and felicitously -- was ranked number 13 in France last year, is to grade very, very severely. It is hard for the students who don't get the best grades to know of what they are actually capable in bac results.

The teachers feel that this keeps them from being over-confident and protects them from resting on their laurels in the event that they happen to have an unreasonably difficult grader on the bac. The downside is that it demotivates and eats at confidence, depending on the person, particularly for those who, like Sam, respond well to positive reinforcement and deflate in the face of a poor result. Audouin's youngest son is the opposite, or at least he takes the hit to his pride of a poor performance as reason to buckle down and "show them".

Second, it shows his teachers that their confidence in his capabilities in not misplaced. They will continue to demand a high level work from him, while believing even more in him. It is possible that they will grade him more in line with what he actually produces, knowing that he has demonstrated a more than adequate level of success.

For Sam, however, it still isn't enough.

He wants to go to France's equivalent of the Ivy League for political science and liberal studies, Sciences Politiques, known as Sciences Po. However, a good result this year will help him keep on next year because he can see that the effort with Asmaa, the doctoral student in history who has given him his private tutoring in French this year, concentrating on methodology and style for written work, has earned him real results, and that continuing with her next year can put him within reach of the mention he will need to help him get in sur dossier.

Sur dossier means admissions by application like American universities, where the full set of grades from the last two years, those of the baccalaureate program, count, along with work experience, community service, sports or music, and the baccalaureate exam results.

If your grades and bac are not strong enough to get in sur dossier, a student can prepare for the entrance examination, where only those above a certain result will be admitted. This is very risky; it's much better to have a solid dossier.

I had told Sam in the weeks before that having decided to repeat the year was not reason not to prepare for the bac, since these grades will be overwritten by next year's, but to see what he could do after this year, with the work he did with Asmaa and the preparation he would put in. A good result would certainly be encouraging and give him the best possible start to next year, where he can but get stronger, and that starting from the strongest point possible.

So, third, they will perhaps help Sam to relax and allow himself to be a more cooperative element in class, which can only work to his benefit. It is easier to succeed with success behind him, rather than failure or poor performance. If he can look back and see success, perhaps he can produce more of it in class, which he absolutely needs if he wants to get into Sciences Po on dossier, and he has the opportunity to try for a better bac result next year.

The last hope has less to do the with bac results and is simply the element of time. More time to develop his skills, his work and study methods and his mastery of written French expression and mathematics.

For now, he can enjoy his summer and look towards some congratulations from his teachers next year. He has the same ones, which turns out to be a blessing, as far as I am concerned. They know him -- the good, the bad and the ugly. At the end of the year, they had their class dinner. The French, History and Geography, Economics and Math teachers were there, and they had a great time, laughing with the kids and Sam. He needs that to feel secure with his teachers, and he will have a whole year with them to get himself straight on track.

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