Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I now have a new respect for all the teachers out there!

 I can’t believe I have been in France for three weeks now! It never ceases to amaze me how time flies. I started teaching officially yesterday, and wow was it challenging. I teach in 7 classes in the first school, though due to scheduling conflicts, I was only really able to teach in 5 this week. No complaints here :) though I'm sure we will have all the kinks worked out by next week.

The “teaching” basically involved simple games, such as “if you are wearing a blue shirt, stand up!” and “My favorite food is…” Sounds simple enough, but with 20+ kids in one room and a (semi) language barrier, things tend to take longer and be more difficult than expected. There was a lot of French spoken both by the students and me, as they are only 6-11 years old and not very advanced. What’s more, the only English they have been taught so far has been with very heavy French accents; their teachers are the first to admit to me that they themselves are not very strong in English. I found out later that after I left my first class, the students freaked out about how they couldn’t understand a word I said, as an American accent speaking English sounds incredibly different from what they’re accustomed to! Apparently “What is the weather today?” and “Waaat eees ze wezher todaaay?” are not created equal.

It’s been a while since I’ve been around so many kids at once, and I forget how silly and fascinating they are, and how crazy they can become when they are all together! At recess, there is a lot of pushing, running, screaming, scratching, climbing and crying – you name it. There is also usually a group of kids circled around me, asking questions, reciting the alphabet, or singing songs to demonstrate their English skills. I often end up finding a tiny hand in mine, as they like to hold hands with me and walk around the playground. It’s adorable, but I was surprised the first time it happened and couldn’t help but think, “Is this allowed?!” Much like the time a little girl in my class tried to “faire la bise”, or kiss both my cheeks, as is the common greeting in France.

I greet fellow teachers, friends, and most of those I’ve met at least once with the double cheek kiss. It was a little strange at first but surprisingly easy to get used to. However, a student had never attempted it with me! I was a little startled, and looked around for signs of shock or disapproval from fellow teachers or other students. Nobody seemed to mind or even notice! Luckily, I am high up enough that not many brave little kids attempt to reach me ;)

As I mentioned before, French teachers are strong disciplinarians. It has been difficult for me to get accustomed to that role, though I have been able to be stern without having to yell. I only have about 45 minutes in each class so hopefully I won’t have to deal with that too much. However, some kids really need to be watched, as I’m sure all the parents out there know!

Yesterday, one such little boy spent an entire class breaking apart all the things in his pencil case – rulers, pencils, and pens (he got ink everywhere), crumbling his erasers. I, the almighty teaching assistant, took everything of his away and, boom! Problem solved! Not. He started stealing various school supplies from the kid next to him, who then proceeded to cry, resulting in a shakedown and searching of the thief’s person and belongings. It was all very CSI.

Today and tomorrow are dedicated to errand running and lesson planning! I definitely have more responsibility in the classes than I had expected (as in, I got to school and the teachers said, “so what do you have planned for today?”), but it’s nothing I can’t handle. I have a few Halloween crosswords to make, and pictures to draw and label, but I think I’ll make it. Nothing can be more complicated than opening a French bank account! Still working on that….

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

...did a 10-year-old just ask me for my number?

Today was my first full day in school! However, I was only observing; next week the actual teaching part will start. That’s when it will get really interesting!

Monday was the first orientation for all of the teaching assistants. I was impressed to learn how many assistants are in Rouen alone, with many more throughout France (I think over 5,000 total). Here, there are assistants teaching English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, German, and Italian. I made lots of new friends and found out that many other assistants are living quite close to me! During the 7-hour orientation, most of the paperwork we are currently supposed to be submitting to the school district/French government was explained, we met crucial contact people, and learned some teaching strategies. All in all a great day

Anyway, back to TODAY – with the kids! I spent the entire day (from 8:30 to 4:40) at my first of two schools I’ll be teaching at. It was fascinating to first observe the differences between schools in France and America. There are many.
View from the train window during my commute to school

Discipline in French schools is not taken lightly. It is a joke in Europe that the kids in America are in charge of the adults, as it is quite the opposite here. All of the following are my observations from one school, so they are, of course, generalizations.

When a child spoke out of turn, they were yelled at loudly and told to be quiet (as in, we could hear other teachers yelling from down the hall). Rulers were rapped on desks more times than I could count. Ridicule and mockery were used freely, though not by all. If a child asked a question that had already been asked earlier, they’d hear, “If you had been listening before, you would have heard!” and the question would go unanswered. Posture in chorus in no joke, hands by your sides! The children addressed their teachers as "Maîtresse", basically, "schoolmaster". The principal is called le Directeur (headmaster) or la Directrice (headmistress, which was the case today). When she entered a classroom, all the students stood and became quiet until she gave them permission to sit; They addressed her only as "Madame la Directrice". Here, the adults are in charge – end of story.

The students were ages 6 to 11, and I spent 45-ish minutes in 7 different classrooms. There are two 20-minute recess breaks throughout the day, and we have from 11:30 to 1:30 for lunch. Yayy, Europe! However, most of the teachers at this particular school work up until 12:30, some even later.

My very first classroom! Apparently "be there by 8:30" in France means 8:40ish ;) 
Now, more about the kids! The younger children were around 6-7, adorable, and pretty tame compared to the 10-11 year olds, who were quite eager to show off their English. In one class, they were describing colors of animals, such as, “Zee bird ees red!” (The bird is red), or “Zee horse ees bleu!” Not too shabby and endearing to boot! In my Q&A session, one child even asked me what my number was. I thought I didn’t have to worry about those kinds of questions in elementary school!!

In French, a casual/cute way of saying hi is “coucou!” I heard a lot of “Coucou, Hannah!” in the hallway, followed by whispers and giggles. It’s hard for me to get into teacher mode and remind them to respect the rule of silence in the hallway when all I want to do is talk with them! All in good time though. At recess, a group of girls approached me and asked if I’d be coming to their class later. I showed them my schedule and told them to see if their teacher was on the list. She was, and they all giggled excitedly and then scurried away. I had a great albeit exhausting day. I can’t imagine how tired I’ll be when I’m actually doing more teaching!! I can tell I am going to get attached to these kids, though J

I love cooking in my little apartment!
Tomorrow I do not have school as the children never have school on Wednesdays, but Thursday I have a full day at my second school, and Friday is split between the two! Now that I got a lot of the paperwork out of the way on Monday, I can focus tomorrow on doing some more errands and preparing teaching materials. For now, it's time for a yummy dinner and some sleeeeep!

If any of you have ideas on how to teach young kids English, or about American culture, feel free to share them with me!

A bientôt J

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The art of don't say no-ism

Whew! So, I heard from my landlord (or landlady, I suppose...) the next day, and she said I could come meet her, fork over the rest of the money, and the keys were mine!! I am absolutely in love with my little apartment; it is the perfect size for my needs, it’s adorable, I have my own bathroom and shower, I have a great view, and so far, everything works! I also have incredibly nice landlords and neighbors.

I moved in yesterday, and had everything set up in no time - one benefit of having very few belongings. Most of what I needed was already here, but I’ve since acquired a few more things: automatic teakettle, bowls, bread and chef’s knives, and wine glasses (of course!); it really feels like home. My first thought when I finished decorating and sat down on my futon was, “I don’t ever want to leave!”
The view from my apartment window is incredible!

That is only theoretical, of course, as Rouen and Normandy in general have tons to offer. In fact, 2011 is Normandy’s 100-year anniversary, so this year will be packed with festivals and attractions. My brain is swimming with all of the places I want to go, things I want to see, and food I want to taste. As of this moment, my time here already seems to be flying!

My landlords, Mr. and Mme. Schaller, came by yesterday to install a new showerhead, point out the good boulangeries in the area, and help me set up my Wi-Fi connection (in French, it’s pronounced “wee-fee” J). Unfortunately, my connection was strong on the first floor where the router is but I had almost nothing up here on the 4th floor. Hearing of my plight, a kindly neighbor who rents an office next to my studio came by and offered me his Wi-Fi password, as his signal would be much stronger from 15 feet away. How nice! Even more generous was the fact that he actually gave me a copy of the keys to the office and said that if my internet was not working, I could use their computers. Who ever said French people are not friendly?!

Fast-forward a whopping 30 minutes to another semi-knock on my already-open door (we’re currently experiencing an Indian summer, and it’s freakin' hot on the 4th floor!) It was my landlady! She asked me how I was settling in, and I told her how much I was enjoying my new place. She then said, “It’s so nice out, and you’re all alone up here on a Friday night!” (loser much?? Haha), and then asked me to join her family for a barbecue at their house in the countryside. Though part of me wanted to plop down and sleep for hours, alone for the first time in a week, I am currently trying out a principle of not saying ‘no’ (within reason, nothing crazy!) I have a tendency to avoid potentially awkward situations at the risk of losing out. Wouldn’t you know it, it ended up being a great night!

I’ll take this time to say that she invited me at around 6:30pm, just as I was going from hungry to ravenous. Little did I know that dinner wouldn’t start until around 10! Once we got in the car, we hit a little city traffic, stopped at the market to pick up some fruits and vegetables, and then dropped one daughter (age 20) off at the stables to ride while also picking up her youngest (Amélie, age 11). Upon arrival at their gorgeous home, Mr. Schaller and Amélie went for a swim. Mme Schaller asked me if I wanted to swim and offered to lend me a bathing suit, but I decided to temporarily abandon my “don’t say no” policy. Baby steps.

As we were waiting for dinner to start as well as for her other daughter to return home from riding lessons with her two friends, I sat outside with Amélie chatting and going over her English workbooks. My landlords had asked me a few days ago if I would be interested in tutoring Amélie in English, and I readily agreed. Yesterday was a bit of a preview! She is extremely sweet and I’m sure we will both teach each other a lot. As an aside, if you want to hear one of the most adorable sounds in the world, just listen to a child speak French. It gets me every time!

The dinner and wine were wonderful, and of course ended with bread and delicious cheese from the Pays Basque, as well as some fruit. The meal itself lasted a couple of hours, followed by some TV and chatting. Around 11:30, however, I began to wonder if I had unwittingly signed up for a sleepover.

A few minutes later, Mme Schaller indeed asked if I wanted to stay over, saying that her kids’ friends have the habit of doing so on Friday nights. I abandoned my “don’t say no” policy yet again and said that I’d prefer to sleep in my apartment if they wouldn’t mind. It was to be my inaugural slumber, after all! She and Mr. Schaller drove me home, taking a little loop around the apartment to point out the good bakeries and stores in the area. I got in my room a little after 12 and was wiped but so glad that I’ve met such kind people so far. I feel that I already have a sort of ‘home base’ and definitely have people I can go to if I need anything!

Today was another landmark day: I did LAUNDRY! Glorious clean clothes were strung all over my apartment like decorations for a grand festival; I even hung my jeans out the window to dry. I found a nice little Laundromat up the street that’s only a five-minute walk- hallelujah!

Later in the day, I met fellow assistants Emily, Jamie and Liz for lunch in Place Saint-Marc (only about 15 minutes away between the metro and walking) and afterwards explored the centre-ville for a bit! Rouen is great on the weekends, full of life and all sorts of people. Tomorrow there are a couple of really good markets, so I’m going to try to get out there early! Not too early, however. The markets start around 6am, it doesn’t begin to get light here until around 7:30 am. I’m not about to go shopping in the dark! I’m not that hardcore yet.

Well that’s definitely a long enough post for this time. Soon you’ll be able to read all about my classroom adventures – things should get interesting ;)
I didn't know my thumbs could bend that far!