Chewing Gum as a Reward?… Getting Acquainted with Weird American School Customs

By: Rachel Mcclary

Starting school in America has taken a bit of getting used to for my daughter and me. Certain things we expected to be different like spelling and history but some we didn’t anticipate, like having to re-learn the words for punctuation. Her third grade class have reading and comprehension tests every few days, a grading system for every piece of work and state tests. Parent’s evenings are far more than just a chat with the teacher about progress. The ‘Goal Setting Conference’ is a chance to work in partnership with school, setting goals identified by my daughter and offering useful advice about how they might be achieved.

However by far the biggest culture shock has been the quirky customs that we are expected to follow. I often feel like the mum who doesn’t quite get things right because there is an assumption that people already understand these customs. Some general customs like yearbooks, longer summer breaks and finishing school early on a Wednesday we have easily adapted to. Many others are related to festivals or traditions that parents and children who have been brought up in the US take for granted.

I was the only parent who didn’t send her child into school with goodies for all the class on Valentine’s Day. The lack of reference to Easter even as a celebration of spring surprised me and I found it hard to get used to Christmas being referred to as ‘the holidays’. The Education system in the US is intentionally secular and they are very careful not to celebrate religious events.

The weirdest thing to date is the latest class reward system for good behaviour. The class is rewarded for good behaviour and hard work with special events such as a disco or pyjama day or with golden tickets that are entered into a draw to win a prize. Sounds good so far doesn’t it? However, I was very shocked when a letter came home saying that as a reward for good behaviour the class would be having ‘gum’ day when the children could chew gum in class.

I have always viewed chewing gum as a disgusting habit and my 9-year-old has only recently been allowed gum. At my school it was always forbidden. I’m sure other Brits can remember wooden desks with lift up lids. Kids would stick their gum to the bottom of the desk often to be discovered hours later congealed on your uniform or worse still, fingers.

In America chewing gum is part of everyday life; I see television presenters chewing gum, sports stars chewing as they run and sometimes even singers with gum in their mouths. I’m sure no American parent recoiled in horror at the thought. To me however a day chewing gum is an endorsement of an antisocial habit and certainly not something we should be encouraging children to do.

What next? Pick your nose day, belch and burp day? Okay maybe it’s just me…….

About the author

Expat Blog ListingRachel Mcclary is a Welsh expat living in USA. Blog description: discussing all aspects of early education and related topics and a new chapter as a Brit in America.
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