Yesterday, I had my first day at my school.
The answer to my question in the last post is yes: the school is, in fact, attached to the town hall.
I met my contact lady around 9:00 a.m.. She is the one who will oversee everything, and she is super-nice. She is in charge of the adults who teach, including the language assistants, of which I am the only one this year. (I will hereafter refer to her as my advisor.)
She introduced me to the school principal, or Monsieur le Directeur, and then I got to meet the other teachers in the teachers’ lounge. They all seemed excited to meet me. Then my advisor loaned me some curriculum books and other materials: posters, flashcards, CDs, and storybooks. We also hammered out my schedule: I will work in that school in the morning, and another school in the afternoon. I will teach 8 classes two times a week for 45-minute class periods. That means 4 classes back-to-back at the first school, eating lunch, walking to the second school, and teaching 4 more classes back-to-back, two days in a row. It will make Mondays and Tuesdays very exhausting, but at least it gives me quite a lot of time for lesson planning and allows me to be more flexible with travel plans for the weekends!
I met two out of the four teachers at my first school, where I will teach in the morning. My advisor had set up an agreement with a different school to let me observe some of their English classes being taught, but then there was a problem with that school. The principal was absent due to sickness, and the other teachers refused to do it because they were not told in advance. (Apparently the principal didn’t pass it along to her colleagues.)
But this worked out in my favor, because I ended up getting to go to my second school in which I will actually teach! So I went there in the afternoon and met a lot of the teachers there. I ate lunch with three of the teachers whose classes I’ll be assisting.
Overall, I will have mostly older classes. Ages 9-10. But I will have one little class (8-year-olds, I think) – this is their first-ever English class! I even got to introduce myself to all four of my afternoon classes. The little kids looked a little scared, but at least they giggled when they couldn’t understand me.
My colleagues are really nice so far, some extremely so. At least three of them have said that I may call them “tu” (the informal way to speak to people). The rest, for the most part, call me tu, but I will continue to call them vous until they tell me otherwise. That bit is so complicated in French. I don’t even wanna think about la bise right now. So far, I just shake their hands, and so far that is fine, but I wonder if there’s a certain point where I’ll be more expected to faire la bise like the rest of them?
The dress code was unexpected: there doesn’t seem to be one. I had read in some assistant forums before I arrived in France that the dress code at the schools is usually very laid-back. Most of the assistants wore jeans to work. I didn’t think it would be true that everyone wears jeans, but it IS true! Most people, at least. Even Monsieur le Directeur. Because of that, I felt a little dressed up, but that’s always better than feeling underdressed.
Lunch was a little awkward. Because I didn’t think about bringing a lunch until the evening before, I ended up grabbing some random items from the fridge. This included a tub of rice that was entirely too much for one sitting, and which I ate cold because I didn’t quite feel comfortable using the microwave.
I also brought a big chunk of cucumber. I would have been better off with it if I had taken the time to cut it into slices. I felt like a barbarian, sitting there biting into it as if it were a piece of baguette. I’d like to think the other teachers didn’t notice, but then I would be lying to myself. The other teachers now probably think that is how we Americans always eat, and I am fairly certain that 99.9% of French people would look down on those kinds of table manners. Add that to the lovely stereotype that one of the other teachers jokingly, yet somehow seriously, laid out for me: Americans are all fat, drink Coca Cola and eat at McDonald’s all the time. Now they also eat large raw vegetables whole…
Anyway, it was also awkward at lunch because, of most of the conversations I listened in on, I understood almost every word while simultaneously being completely unable to understand what they were talking about. That actually happens more often than I’d like here in France. Then again, I’ve only been back for 2 weeks; I’m sure I’ll get back into it eventually.
Well, everything is bizarre in the beginning but it was overall a good day. I was jittery from having drunk too much coffee, and I ended up with a big headache. (Though that could also be from being around all the kids at recess….) Madame la Directrice (the principal at my afternoon school) drove me to the train station this time so that I would know which way to go. That’s another route I will have to remember. Apparently there are buses I can take between both schools, and to the train stations, but apparently they are also en grève at the moment. Going on strike seems to be a favorite French pastime.
My feelings on teaching kids
The kids are cute, though, and they seem excited to start English. When I introduced myself to the four classes in the afternoon, it felt weird being back up in front of the students and speaking. Especially when the kids have no idea what you are saying. (I must remember to be more animated when I start my class!) The balance is often difficult between being fun & silly, and making sure they are actually learning something.
But I am quite pleased to be teaching the little ones. They still have the tendency to get excited about learning. They still have wonderful imaginations. And hopefully they won’t be speaking as much slang as middle- and high-schoolers do. (Verlan is beyond my ability to understand.)