2 07 2010

As you read this, I am in a plane on my way to the States with Tobias.  We are flying British Airways via Heathrow, so hopefully that volcano with the unpronounceable name in Iceland will keep quiet during our travels.  So, as I journey back to my home country, I want to spend a little time sharing my last impressions of France and the end of my assistant teaching in Mantes-la-Ville.

Last week of teaching

This is the schoolyard of the school I taught at in the afternoons.

As I may have mentioned, I only worked two days a week this past school year in France, as I was only allowed to work 12 hours per week. Because it was so far out in the banlieue, they scheduled me to work two full days – Monday and Tuesday every week.

On my last Monday of work, I only had to work a half day because of a field trip the kids at my morning school were on. I came anyway at 11:30, when I would normally be done teaching in the morning, so I could bring all of the materials back that they loaned me in the beginning of the year.

Some of my afternoon school’s teachers and the directrice were there to pick up some books and they drove me back to the afternoon school. They had told me last week not to bring a lunch with me on Monday because they wanted to have a party for me. When I arrived at the school, I realized that all of the teachers had pitched in and brought all sorts of delicious French specialties for a big meal together. There were two types of quiche (one with spinach and quiche lorraine, with ham),

The party was great! They even had a little apéritif before eating. And, in typical French style, there was wine – both red and white – and cider. They made kir with sirop de cassis and white wine. It was great! I had a glass of each. (Small glasses…didn’t want to be drunk at work! But I must say I enjoyed being allowed to drink at work! That will not likely happen in Germany or in the States!)

It was very special. I didn’t really add much to the conversation, per usual, but I had a lot of fun at this party. They dedicated a toast to me, and I thanked them for everything they’d done for me over the year. For dessert there was a clafoutis, a cherry dessert that I’ve made twice before at home. All of the food they brought was really delicious, and I was very full when the lunch break was over.

The afternoon classes on Monday were perfect. I did the normal “date / weather / how are you” ritual, and after that I taught them the game Heads Up, Seven Up. That’s a game I remember playing in elementary school and middle school and really loved it at the time. The French kids also loved it, and I had fun playing that with them.

Tuesday: the very last day

This is the handout I made with the lyrics to the song.

Then, on my last day of work, I was very excited to finish things up. I decided to spend all the class periods playing games with the kids. I taught them The Moose Song and they loved that. Then I did hangman with the phrase “Let’s play Simon Says!” And they all understood enough to be really excited about the answer and say, “Yeah!” (Well, they actually said “ouais!!! and it made me feel a little bit like I hadn’t really taught them anything this year.) So we played a round or two of Simon Says, and then we transitioned into several rounds of Heads Up, Seven Up. Then, with 5 minutes left in class, I made them sing The Moose Song again, and then it was time to say goodbye.

I didn’t expect it, but I was a lot more emotional about saying goodbye than I thought I would be. One class in the morning cheered me out with “Hip hip hip hourrah!” and another class had just gotten dictionaries as a gift from their school before they enter middle school, and they wanted me to sign their dictionaries. (They got all their friends to sign them, too.) So I gave plenty of autographs, which felt pretty funny. The kids said they would miss me, and I wished them good luck with the next school year. What really hit me was saying goodbye to the kids in my favorite class in the afternoon school. It was the second class of the afternoon and they surprised me with thank-you cards they drew and letters they wrote for me. It touched me so much, and was so unexpected, that I cried. I went around to each of them and took their cards and said goodbye. That was really sweet. In the other classes, I went around to each of them and gave them a high five and told them goodbye individually by name. In another class, they had brought in some cakes and brownies and juice for everyone, and we had snack time at the end. A few kids asked me questions about my life and why I came to France, and where I was going next. That was nice to see their reactions to different things about my life. All of the teachers gave me la bise (you know, that French cheek kiss greeting) and asked to keep in touch.

The day was not without its problems, though. The one class that was horrible every day all year was also horrible for the last day. It wasn’t even fun to play the game with them and the kids were really disrespectful. I was SO glad to leave that class. And in another class in the morning, I had to break up a fight between two nine-year-old students. (Not surprisingly, these were the two most misbehaved children in the class.) For whatever reason — probably the after-effects of verbal arguments during recess — one kid back-handed the other in the torso. The other reacted very badly to this and yelled at him, and then proceeded to strangle him! I ran over and had to pull them apart. It was so crazy – why would this happen on my last day?  Because life is funny that way, I suppose.  At least it made for an interesting story, and the kids didn’t seriously hurt each other or anything.

This is a view of the hallway outside of one of my classrooms in the afternoon school.

Now that this job is over, and I know I most likely won’t see those students ever again, it’s a bittersweet feeling. But that feeling didn’t last too long, because there are too many other exciting travels coming up!


Where have you been all year?

15 06 2010

Let me take a moment to complain about my kids.

I’ve taught English 2 days a week, every week excluding vacations, of course, for 9 months now.  And EVERY day, in EVERY class, I do the same opening ritual:

  1. What’s the date?
  2. How’s the weather?
  3. How are you?

And the kids answer.  I write the date on the board and make them read it.  I ask them the weather, which I’ve taught them and we’ve repeated since the beginning of the year.  They can say sunny, rainy, cloudy, overcast, “the sky is blue” (or gray), snowy, windy, cold, chilly, warm, and hot.  They have a good vocabulary base, although I’m sure they can’t spell these things because we only do it à l’oral.  The same goes for “how are you”.  They can say a lot of different responses.

In the morning, in my very first class, a girl comes up to me after the weather portion of the above ritual and starts talking to me during the “How are you” part while the kids are answering.  She stands up and walks to me, without asking, while the class is doing the next part of the ritual, and she said to me (in French…):

Teacher, I don’t know how to say the weather.  I wasn’t here when you taught it.

What…?  Girl, I never gave any hand-outs about the weather, but I sure as hell TAUGHT the weather!  Every day with them!  Where was she then?  In my class.  She should have learned it by now!  I think I was mean to her with my response…but I couldn’t help it.  Good grief.

It’s beyond words.

I don’t get it.

The rest of the day went as usual: the kids were rowdy, they weren’t paying much attention, they talked a lot, they joked around, they hit each other, annoyed each other, you name it.  Badly behaved kids.  Some days are worse than others.  Today was a tiring one, for sure.  Plus, I’m getting sick again, and speaking all day made my throat hurt.  The kids were at least (for the most part) nicer to me and a little better-behaved when I told them that my throat hurts.  Most quieted down.

But then, this afternoon, in my very last class, I got another comment that cut me to the heart.

Maîtresse, je ne comprends pas.

“Teacher, I don’t understand.”  Spoken by a kid who says this literally every class.  I’m not even exaggerating.  I see this kid staring out the window, or playing with his ruler or what not, while I am explaining the directions for the activity.  And, as if on cue, as soon as I finish speaking, his hand shoots up.  I call on him (maybe I should stop doing that…ha), and he says he doesn’t understand.  He wasn’t listening; no wonder he doesn’t understand.  And it’s always the same.  Every single day.


Does it really matter?

I honestly believe most of these kids will forget the majority of what we’ve learned this year over their summer vacation.  (If they haven’t forgotten it already, that is.)  I am sure of this, because it’s human nature.  Only the kids who were really interested in learning English will hold onto the things I’ve taught them.  There are at least 2 or 3 in each class, so at the very least, I’ve made a positive impact on 16 kids and their English abilities.

At the very least, several kids have drawn me pictures and expressed their liking for me.  Yesterday, I even got a love note from a 9-year-old that said “Y love you Sara”.

And now for something completely different.

29 05 2010

Recording videos always feels a little like leaving a message on someone’s answering machine: awkward, long, and usually not very eloquent.  But sometimes there is something that a video can capture that words can’t.  In this instance, it is my overall amusement that is evident in my voice and on my face.

Flippin’ video…

Sorry for the mirror-image video.  That was unexpected.  I used my MacBook Pro’s Photo Booth to take it, and you can flip pictures – but not movies.  (Not easily, at least.  Someone mentioned something about editing Photo Booth in Quartz, but that programming stuff is beyond me.)  Apparently, though, the Internet told me that if I capture the video through the built-in iSight webcam via iMovie, it keeps the video true to form and iAmHappy.

Next time, I’ll know what to do.


Spelling errors

27 05 2010

A:  “How do you spell elephant?”
B:  “E-l-l-e-e-f-a-n-t”
A:  “That’s not how the dictionary spells it!”
B:  “You didn’t ask me how the dictionary spelled it!”

(Spelling joke from multiple sources online via a Google search.)

How do you spell it?

One thing I have done a lot with my CM1 kids (9-year-olds) is to practice spelling.  When I write words on the board they have already learned (the date, for example), I ask them, “How do you spell it?”  From their answers to that question, it is pretty clear that most of them have no idea how to spell things.

Kids are notoriously bad at spelling, but most of them get better over time.  Though I’m certainly NOT perfect, I have always been good at spelling…on paper, that is.  (Ironically, spelling out loud is not my strong point; I’m a visual learner.)  Luckily for me, my school never had any spelling bees, because I would have been mortified to lose.

Back to my CM1 kids: this week, they were tested on the names of different rooms in the house.  I spent today grading the tests and have had quite a few laughs at their spelling.  I started compiling a list, and from approximately 75 students, they came up with the following: 11 different ways to spell “living room”, 13 ways to spell “dining room”, 14 ways to spell “bathroom”, 17 ways to spell “kitchen”, and 20 ways to spell “bedroom”!

For your viewing pleasure,

here are their misspellings:

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Another reason why I shouldn’t buy a plant.

30 03 2010

Basil before (blurry screen shot of my video)

I’ve been wanting something green to live in my apartment for a while now – ever since I moved here in September.  But I never got around to buying a plant.  It wouldn’t have worked out, anyway, because I travel too much.  It would certainly have died while I was away on vacation.

Just a couple of days ago, I bought a basil plant so I could add some fresh basil to my meals.  For those of you who know me well, you know that basil is one of my culinary trump cards.  If anything on the menu has basil in it, I am most likely to choose that meal above anything else.  (Another of those special favorites: sesame seeds.)

I put some in my soup the other night, and have affectionately nicknamed the recipe “basil boats.”  I’m a dork and I made a video about it.

I should have known it wouldn’t last long chez moi.  Whatever the opposite of a green thumb is, I’ve got it.  Every live plant I buy dies within just two or three days.  If I water it, then it’s somehow too much water.  If I don’t water it, then it’s not enough.  I could probably even kill a cactus.

A rough day for us both

What it looked like when I got home from work today.

That plant looks just the way I felt after today’s teaching day.  It was one of the worst.  All four morning classes went horribly, and there were only two out of the four afternoon classes that were pretty good.  The rest sucked, and I’m glad the day is over.

One “diamond in the rough” moment was when a kid in my 9-year-old class asked me what the word “AIGHT” meant.  I didn’t understand him at first, and asked him to spell it.  When he got to the G-H, I started laughing to myself.  I then had to explain that it’s slang, and that it’s just a short version of “all right”.

Aaaight! In the end, I have some better news for my plant: I gave it some water right when I came home, and put it in the sunlight, and it’s starting to perk up a bit!  For the meantime, that is…I won’t get my hopes up.


À l’école

2 10 2009
Teachers lounge at the afternoon school.

Teacher's lounge at the afternoon school.

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.

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Mantes La Ville

29 09 2009

I finally mustered up the courage to call my contact at my school in which I will be teaching, instead of simply emailing her a response.  She was extremely nice on the phone, and I’m glad that I called her.  She explained to me in more detail how to get to the school from the train station.  That sounded a little complicated, but not overly so – it helped a lot that she gave landmarks, things to look for to know I was going in the right direction.  That always wins.

Since the validity of my passe NaviGO began yesterday, I decided to do a practice run of my commute.  That way, come Thursday, I will know exactly where to go and what to do, and the only thing I’ll have to worry about is catching my train on time.

So I walked to the Gare Saint-Lazare, trying to figure out what the best route would be en vélo. I plan to use my new bike to commute from here to the train station, to cut down on my commute time.  That didn’t work too well, as I ended up taking a longer route that was out of the way and led me back toward my former host parents’ apartment.  (At least I knew the neighborhood.)

When I got to the station, I passed by the grandes lignes, knowing that those were the ones that went to farther away cities than the suburbs of Paris.  I quickly found the right quay…but where was the place to validate my ticket?  Not wanting to miss my train, I decided to risk it and just board the train anyway.  My ride wouldn’t be entirely illegal, since my passe NaviGO does pay for all zones, but the chances of having a contrôle de billet, where transportation police check everyone’s tickets to make sure they paid for the trip, were very slim.

So I caught a “free” ride to Mantes Station.  It wasn’t too difficult to find the school.  In fact, it was super-easy.  You pretty much just turn right out of the train station (to make sure you’re actually going to Mantes La Ville and not Mantes La Jolie, a different town) and take the first big street you come across.  From there, it’s a few minutes’ walk straight down that street until you come to la Mairie, or town hall.  The school is right there.  In fact, could it really be possible that the school is in the same building as the Mairie??  It sure seemed like it.

Well, I turned around and walked back to the train station, taking a few pictures on my cell phone of the surroundings.  I almost took the wrong train on the way back, but I noticed it just in time.  More accurately, it would have been the right train to go back to Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris, but it was a more local train that made twice as many stops.  Anyway, I am pretty proud of myself that I figured this out, and I’m also glad that I did a practice run when there was no pressure.  I will be far less stressed on Thursday morning when I go for my first day of work.

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