Sunday, September 26, 2010


Ok, here's one for you:

Last week I had Anna's Back To School Night. For those of you, like me, who are thinking, 'what the chuff is a Back to School Night?' it seems to be a parents evening where the teacher outlines what your children will be doing in the coming year, and then strong-arms you in to volunteering in the classroom.

We all sat in a circle on comically small chairs and Anna's teacher asked us to introduce ourselves, say who our child was, and then pick a word to best sum them up.

Growing up, my surname landed me right at the bottom of the alphabet, and there's nothing a teacher likes to do more than go round the class in reverse alphabetical order. Consequently I have learned to think on my feet. I was sitting to the teacher's left and got to go first.

"Well," I said, "My name is Ali blah blah, my daughter is Anna, and if I had to choose a word to describe her I would say 'verbal'."

Laughter, from the parents of girls.

"She's got an amazing way with words, she's a great communicator and reader, and basically manages to express herself very well".

"Ha!" says Anna's teacher, "if I had to pick a word I would say precocious".


Is it just me or is that a hugely double-edged sword? WTF? Is she saying smart or smart-arsed? People laughed, but I was thinking, really? When has being a precocious child ever been a good thing? Obviously I would prefer precocious to 'brain like a slug', but every other child was described by their parents as 'happy, helpful, creative' etc and she felt no need to interject.

What does it mean?


k said...

Hehe, in this country I've found it's got very good connotations -- it's a label that those crazy type-A personality parents (who agonize whether their choice of preschool will affect their child's chances of getting into Harvard) would just kill to get.

See here, for example:

On page five it says:
"The precocious behaviors listed below are for reference only and should not be used as a checklist for the identification of giftedness"

So basically, if your kid is precocious, it gets into Hunter Kindergarden/elementary school. From there her road to the Ivys is paved nice and smooth...

I'm all for academics (I went to an Ivy myself) but this is crazy. And historically but when words lose their meaning, you know a culture is in decline...

Eden Kennedy Onassis said...


Did the teacher think you were bragging? Because her changing your description of YOUR OWN DAUGHTER managed to tell the other parents that they should choose far more neutral words to describe their own children. Maybe she was intimidated by your delightful accent, in which the problem is hers, not yours.

itsgrimupnorth said...

Precocious. Blond. Older Sister. Now where have I seen that before???

Meegan said...

I'm inclined to think she was simply agreeing with you, superlatively. But it's still weird and somewhat inappropriate. And I agree with Mrs. Kennedy, in that she was totally encouraging the other parents to choose more neutral descriptions.

Anonymous said...

I just looked it up and it means 'mentally advanced for age' and it's closest synonym is 'intelligent'

So it's a compliment - stop worrying!

Anonymous said...

No one likes obnoxious children. Maybe your child comes across that way.

AliBlahBlah said...

Lordy Lordy. It's an interesting one isn't it? It's surprising me how people have reacted to the teacher's comment. Some say it's good, you must be proud, others are more like 'wow, why would she say that?'. As I said, smart or smart arse, it's a fine line. Obnoxious is hopefully a trifle harsh. She I'd after all only 5. Perhaps she needs to work on her filter but I think that will come with time. In the meantime once she finished reading The Odyssey we'll work on her people skills.....

Thanks for your thoughts!

Daffodilly said...

This happened to me too and I wanted to smack the person in the mouth as I was deeply hurt. Apparently this is a compliment in American for a bright and confident child whereas english people tend to think of Nellie Olson off Little House on the Prairie! Just put it down to a culture differance!

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