Friday, June 27, 2008

It's over.


My two fifth grade classes were going on canoeing and biking trips this week, so their English lessons got smushed onto Wednesday morning. I attempted chocolate chip cookies which, if you are Nicholas, Peter, Mom or Dad, looked a lot like the cookie jerky from a few years back. And that was the best of three attempts. The kids loved them anyways and demanded the recipe. Both classes showed up with the big pink Paris rugby team flags and pink crepe paper flowers pinned to their shirts. When the class ended, they all came up and gave me their flowers, which they had made. How sweet!! Everything was pink themed because "Rose" in French translates to "pink." So essentially, my name in French is Pink. I am conflicted about this.


Hi busy day. It is also near 30 degrees Celsius, which I believe is about 145 degrees Farenheit. I am also trekking around Ussel with a grocery bag of peanut butter and jelly sandwich fixings, a projector, and a backpack with my laptop. I was sweating like a pig. Jean-François and I banged out some awesome pbjs for our combined fourth grade insanity and also for my third graders at School One. That class went well. Mr. Modeste, the principal, gave me a present - a photo book of pictures of the Plateau Millevaches. The two teachers I work with at School One, Catherine and Fabienne, took this last day to tell me how difficult this year was. They both approached it in ways that I tried not to take offense to. Look, I'm a new teacher, I'm not French, foreign languages are not a subject everyone immediately takes a liking to, give me a break. I did the absolute best I could. Every single day.
Then at School Two, the ridiculous fourth graders were ANGELS because Marie-Pierre sat in. They also enjoyed the pbj sammies. P* gave me a really pretty bracelet, S* gave me candies, and the rest of the students gave me adorable scraps of paper.
Virginie at School Three had to explain to me 2855 times how the 'lesson' was going down. I think the sun and heat fried my brain. The pancake recipe she found was a little odd - yogurt? - and the electric griddle was way too hot but they kids devoured the pancakes. It was a really good time. Those students are just out of this world. As I'm with them all afternoon - from after lunch to the end of school - they all gave me bises (kiss-kiss) as they left school. OH MY GOODNESS can they be any cuter. Mr. Barbe, the principal, gave me the present from the staff - a book about Corrèze, a Corrèzien recipe book (yes!!!), and an address book with pictures of the volcanoes. There is also an hysTERical card with notes from all the teachers. They are a funny bunch.


As my fifth graders were out biking or canoeing or climbing trees, I only had my nervous fourth graders at School Two. Catherine is very no-nonsense, so when it came to be five minutes late, I poked my head out the door. I glimpsed ALL of the fourth and fifth graders - all of my students at School Two - in the hallway with those darn pink Paris rugby flags. UH-OH. Madame Cousty, the principal and third grade teacher, called me out into the hallway. I immediately burst into tears. Oh my goodness. Not even in English could I express how grateful and thankful and happy and sad and fulfilled I felt. I learned so much and I grew so much, and it's because of nearly 150 of the silliest little children on the planet. The school gave me a present - a butterfly necklace that I personally find hideous but hope to work into my wardrobe somehow. And more awesome scraps of paper from my students. I especially liked the acrostics poems: Rigolote (fun), Océan (ocean? what?), Sérieuse (serious), Etats-Unis (United States). There are funnier ones.

During this last session of lessons, I gathered up all my students in each class by groups and took their pictures. Photographic evidence, I told them. I can't wait to introduce you to all of them. They have such personalities and hysterical stories. I love them, really.

Françoise took me out to dinner at Lac Ponty restaurant. It was beautiful. "I didn't want you to leave France with only bad memories!" she joked. My bags are packed. My bank account is closed. In classic French style, I had one more argument with France Telecom. (A letter to close the internet account and a phone call to close the phone line. Will it end.) I have two more huge packages to mail home. I have said my goodbyes. I have been emotionally and mentally ready to leave for a few weeks now.

I just feel so comfortable here. I really look forward to sitting still for a while.

I am very proud and happy that I can look back on this experience and say that I did my very best every day, that I went far outside my comfort zones often, that I learned so much about me as a person and French speaker and teacher, that this is the keystone event in my life thus far.

A weekend in Paris and I'm back in New York for a whirlwind summer.

Au revoir, La France. Tu me manqueras, mais nous nous reverrons bientôt. A la prochaine.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Life is manic.

On Friday afternoon, Virginie picked me up and we went to her house in Saint-Junien-près-Bort. She lives with Joselin, nicknamed Jose (sounds like Joes), her boyfriend-nearly-husband, their dog Shina (pronounced Sheena), and their two cats. Saint-Junien is an adorable little...crossing of roads. We went for walks, had dinner - truffade, which is basically cheesy homefries spread on ham slices, and I brought homemade brownies for dessert - and generally had a delightful evening. We visited the Lac de Bort, or the big lake formed by the dam at Bort-les-Orgues. There's a castle on the other side that was unintentionally saved when plans for the dam changed. Apparently no one seemed to care if the lake submerged the castle. we also took a walk to the Site Saint-Nazaire that overlooked the gorges of the Dordogne river. Ohhhh my goodness. It was so impressive. I'm not sure my photos do it justice. I slept over. In the morning, we made our way to Puy de Dome. On the way there, we stopped at Lac de Guéry, the only lake in France where you can legally ice-fish (really?), Mont Sancy (where if you remember, I went "skiing"), and Orcival to see a beautiful (but still scaffolded!!!) Romanesque church. Once at Puy de Dome, THE mountain of the Massif Central, we had lunch with Virginie's college friend Sandra and her boyfriend Julien. The five of us, all teachers of some form, talked about France, the US, how stupid hot it was, how high up the mountain is, and had a good time. And we hiked up the mountain. It was just over 400m vertical and took about 45 minutes to go up. Once up, we walked around the summit, looked at the ruins of the ancient temple to Mercury, watched do you say "parapent in English? people flying around on kites, and drank lots of water. By walking all the way around this mountaintop, you can see the Cantal mountains, the very extinct volcanoes, the city of Clermont-Ferrand, and this beautiful, unknown, lost region. It was breathtaking. It took us nearly two hours to go down the hill and find the parking lot, and involved much "Jose? Are you sure we're almost there? Jose, do you even know where we are?" It was really fun. Virginie is a really fun person. She's smart, down to earth, humble, funny, and genuinely kind. I like her a lot. We have similar opinions of the schools in Ussel. School Three, where she works, is pretty cliquey and stand-off-ish. She was unsurprised that there were some teachers there that haven't said word one to me. Jose was a really cool guy too. They're good together.

As a farewell dinner, Hélène invited me and Françoise to her home for a traditional French dinner. Her husband Laurent and their son Pierre were there, as well as Pierre's best friend/partner in crime Daniel. Those two are hysterical, as I have mentioned many times. Better than TV. They watch unsubtitled episodes of "Lost" in English, so their English is pretty funny. They're also brilliant. Anyways. Apéritif was La Vache Qui Rit apéricubes, crackers, and champagne. But not just any champagne - the brand of Queen Elizabeth! Classy. Entrée was salad with shaved wild boar, melon cubes, and goat cheese. It sounds gross but it was beautiful and the wild boar, the first I had ever eaten, tasted like some of the best dry ham I've ever eaten. It was delicious. Plat was rosemary roast beef with olive oil mashed potatos, all perfectly cooked. Unbelievably delicious. Then cheese - Saint-Nectaire (soft), Cantal (hard), and bleu d'Auvergne (bleu). Dessert was clafoutis, a sort of flan with whole cherries. Everything was so delicious. The Lombarteix are such warm and kind people; I feel so comfortable with Françoise; Daniel and Pierre are hysterical. They gave me a little parting gift - a mug with the old time La Vache Qui Rit picture on it! This will be MY mug for....

I HAVE A TEACHING JOB!!! Monday afternoon, after classes (more yelling, lots of sweating, lots of bitterweetness) and before the dinner party, I had a Skype interview with the school in New York. It was really exciting to finally see "in person" the principal and French teachers with whom I have been corresponding via email for the past month now. They are so professional and positive and enthusiastic. I guess they liked me. After about an hour of discussions about teaching, the principal offered me the position as their new French and Spanish teacher. I am on the MOON. I am so so so excited!!! Oh my goodness. I have so many questions for them now. Namely, when can I get into MY classroom!!

Today after my ONE class as my fifth graders are off on a bike ride somewhere, Jean-François and I are going to look for peanut butter for snackies on Thursday, I am going to get baking materials for brownies and cookies, and then I am going to bake up a storm. Luckily Françoise won't be here to see the bordèle - she has a meeting elsewhere.

Wednesday is my last class with my fifth graders. I am going to miss them a lot. They are fairly indifferent about me, I'm sure. The third graders and some of my fourth graders are really upset that I'm not coming back next year. I love this job and I am so so so grateful for the things I've learned and the doors it has opened for me. Even when there are intensely disappointing days.

I will be in New York in one week. Seven days.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Bad Day In France:

School One's fourth graders were annoying during their evaluations. Be quiet and do your own work, it's a test.
School One's third graders were more annoying during their evaluations. Be quiet and do your own work, it's a test.
School Two's ridiculous fourth graders were ridiculous during their evaluations. I sent out B* because he can't figure out how to not bother everyone. However, I was supposed to send him out with a classmate because he ended up hiding in his classroom (not where he should have gone, he should have gone to the principal's classroom). This was made even worse when one of the resource teachers (I think?) came to look for him and he was not in the principal's classroom nor was he in English. The three of us found him in the hallway with his jacket, apparently preparing to leave. Oh my goodness. He was not the only one who was acting up. I took away all of their tests and screamed at them. Be quiet and do your own work. It's a test. I'm going to take off five points from all of their tests. They were ridiculous.
School Two's Merci Madame, the secretary and computer teacher, has a name: Anne. All right then. She and I both lamented the lack of hard work in schools both by teachers and by students.
School Three's fourth graders did well on their evaluations. They finished ahead of time, so I pulled "Where is Thumbkin?" out of nowhere and now they've at least heard "How are you?".
School Three's third graders are just. so. dim. I blame their schedule. One hour of English one time a week does not allow for real progress or retention of any material. I feel so bad for some of them, especially V* and S* who are seriously lacking any stimulation at home: you look in their eyes and there is just nothing. It breaks my heart. They're benign.

I fully maintain that the French high school students who are taking their final exams (le Bac) right now would never pass my Regents, APs, SATs or ACTs; but I concede that as a high school student, I would not have passed their exams. This is not based on cultural reasonings, but just simple "What are you taught and how are you taught to express it." American high school students are taught to manipulate information and derive meaning from it, whereas, at least in my opinion, French high school students are taught to memorize the meanings.

But at the elementary level, before all the non- and low- and even mid-acheivers are weeded out, I fully believe that French elementary students do not perform at the same proficiency level of their American counterparts.

This universal education is a common idea in both France and the US; the US emphasizes more on equal opportunity, while France emphasizes performance. At least everyone in the US is supposed to receive a quality education. In France, I see so many of my students who will never pass the 'regular' high school tracks. They'll be tracked into the vocational high school programs. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but in a country that has such a rigid social structure, it immediately sets you up to stay where you are. No wonder so many French are born, live, and die in the same town. They never had the opportunity to do anything else. Had Andy been a French student, I guarantee that because of his home life, and not due to his ambition or intelligence, he would have been tracked into a manual labor vocational high school program. But because Andy is American and has ambition and intelligence, he got to go to college to study something admittedly useless but that interested him and not dictated by some shadowy figure.

I just keep seeing this "lowest common denominator" idea in the French education system. It's not equal opportunity; it's opportunity for only the good students and little support for students who even minorly struggle. In the US, anyone can improve their opportunities by hard work. I just don't see that in France. Hard work just is not rewarded. My teachers are thrilled that I work as hard as I do for them; I'm not great but I do try hard. But I would be appreciated just as much had I not done all this work, had I just photocopied the pages from the textbook and followed the stupid I Spy password gimmick.

Please, can that high school in New York call me already so I can leave this disappointing world of French education?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tick tock...

I have TEN days left in Ussel. Ohhh my goodness!!! People ask me if I'm happy and I say yes, but sad at the same time. I've developed some very one-sided attachments to this place and the people I've met.

I haven't updated because I've been in a very negative mood.
1. The outing with Hélène, Françoise's friend, to her equestrian center exhibition was...not my cup of tea. It's called the Centre Equi-Relax, where they mix horseback riding (I use the term loosely), a Chinese meditation technique called qi gong, music, and natural arts and crafts. I am not an animal person, but despite Andy's insistance, I don't hate animals. I am indifferent. And horses are just too touchy-feely for my taste. It was super cold and started to rain. And like all very French situations, I became uncomfortably bored about two hours too soon. Seriously, horses and yoga? Are you kidding me. No.
2. I have a grand total of 11,62€ in my bank account, and there is entirely too much stress-baking I want to do.
3. My students are antsy. It's getting to the end of the school year, the weather is not summery (it's been raining for the past week), and they pick up really fast that I have little patience for distracted children. This is so newbie teacher, but if I'm a first year teacher I'll take advantage of making mistakes like this. Like I told my ESM freshmen who wanted to go to the bathroom during their 80 minute blocks, "If I can't pee, neither can you." Rar. Do you think I want to be here either? Let's just muscle through this.
4. My body, after high-calorie cantine meals in the land of "mix it with cream!", has gone from decently sized in September to downright squishy to some bizarre Play-Doh-inspired shapes. I am very unhappy that the first thing I do when I touch down in Syracuse is spend time with the man who thinks my body is a temple, then wear a bathing suit on a national beach. I have lost 3kg in about a month, but there's a good 10kg to go. I have learned however that I use food as therapy.
5. I just REALLY want to go home. This attitude is not what I should have for my last weeks. It makes work and life that much more difficult.
6. I realise they're very busy with finals and end of the year shenanigans but the high school in New York has not responded to my emails since Friday. We have been emailing daily for the past three weeks. AHHH. I need them to know that my New York State intial certifications have been processed and I have pieces of paper saying I am allowed to teach!!! I am very excited.

Things to look forward to in the coming days:
1. I am going to Virginie's house this weekend to spend time with her and her boyfriend Josselin (pronounced like Jocelyn) and go hiking and sightseeing in her neck of the woods! She told me not to bring anything but I totally want to make brownies for Friday night and oatmeal raisin cookies for scampering around on Saturday.
2. Evaluations in all of my classes. If there is any reason to enjoy test days, it's because the lesson plan is easy: instructions, pass out tests, instructions, let 'em loose.
3. A formal traditional French dinner at Hélène with Françoise on Monday! Again, we were told not to bring anything but we'll bring some chocolates and flowers.
4. School One's final week's lessons will be combined with Jean-François' class. This way, his students get some American culture and we get to rest a little bit while the kids experience death by Powerpoint. Assuming it works. And peanut butter and jelly sammiches! With yucky German peanut butter.
5. School Three's students are getting a pancake party at Virginie's pleading. "Please, can we do pancakes? I love pancakes." Really? Well sure. I like Virginie a lot. It took a while to warm up to her and for her to open up to me but she's a really nice person, down to earth, and kind.
6. I'm not sure what School Two's classes are doing for treats. I can't really make 100 of something interesting and decidedly American.

ANNND then I go to Paris! For a weekend! I already have things I want to see and do mapped out:
Picasso Museum
L'Orangerie (Monet's waterlilies)
chocolate shop Cacao et Chocolat
cheese shop L'Alessose or whatever
Galeries Lafayette
Montmartre for touristy souvenirs
FNAC's book section for French books
Chinese food
vegetarian restaurants

I am so excited to come home. I am going to miss Ussel so much. Luckily I can take pictures of ALL of my students! These pictures will not be posted online so as to protect them.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Are we there yet?

Ugh, I think I lost the twenty-five full sheet color printouts of the rooms of the house. They are not at home, they are not at School Two...hopefully I left them somewhere at School One or Three. Please please please, I was really expecting to use them for like...everything.

I'm very very anxious to go home, for a number of reasons. One reason I have not mentioned is the increasing isolation here at the high school. Now that Ben and Rocio are gone, it's just me. There are no regular classes now, so there are much fewer students and even fewer teachers. I am not the effervescent Rocio or thoughtful Ben; I am quiet Rose. My parents will deny this up and down but I am just not outgoing. I am friendly, but initiating conversations, even in English, is not where I feel confident. Even less so in French where I'm perpetually afraid that my conversation interrupts others or is inappropriate, or that I'm speaking incorrectly - incorrect syntax, conjugation, pronunciation. It's very frustrating. I am so aware that I am The Foreigner, and now the comfort of having fellow foreigners is gone. I am so self-conscious of being an outsider. I am culturally, socially, and linguistically outside; here at the high school, where I am welcome but have absolutely no official attachment, I am an administrative outsider. Basically this boils down to being ignored in the staff lunchroom. I feel paralyzed to fix it. I just do not feel confident enough to initiate a conversation with people who barely acknowledge my well-rehearsed "Bonjour, bon appetit!" It makes me feel very lonely. The only people who I feel comfortable talking to are Krystyna the librarian and Françoise.

In other news, last night was a bizarre happening. Virginie, my sole colleague at School Three, single-handedly organized the year-end show. It was based on ecology and recycling. Her students modeled "clothes" fashioned from trash; Christelle, the third grade teacher in the room next door, had her students perform some chants and songs based on ecology; the fifth grade teacher across the hall had her students perform interpretive dance (no really) based on ecology (it was actually pretty good); and there was some non sequitur tumbling performed by the third graders. BUT. The best part was the 'surprise' from the teachers, including me!! All the teachers got a celebrity character to dress up as for a little fashion show. Guess who the token American representative was? PARIS HILTON. (Imagine that pronounced in a French accent, it's hysterical.) I wore a denim miniskirt and a pink tank top. Virginie lent me a little stuffed dog and some sweet necklaces. It was sooo funny! And fun! I was, however, the most overweight Paris Hilton ever but it was so cool to be included like that. (See above paragraph.) The whole thing, from set-up to departure, was very School Three - lots of waiting around, confusion, starting well past the posted time, and fun. After the show we all went for a drink. I got my Diabolo Fraise (limonade or Sprite with strawberry syrup) and we chatted like teachers. Fun times.

I completely forgot to tell you about this!! Last week, the classes at School Two put on their plays. Each class had a different play. There were two nights of plays, some repeated.
1. Marie-Pierre's fourth graders did a play about Miss Tomato wanting to marry Mr. Pickle but Mr. Pickle being in love with Miss Tomato Sauce and the various other vegetables, fresh and canned, in the kitchen with them. The best part about this was that they knew a lot of those words in English! They were fantastic.
2. Catherines's fourth graders did a play about the Jumpers and the Yawners. King Jumper wanted a restful vacation, and Queen Yawner wanted an active vacation so they traded kingdoms. Hi, my students are the CUTEST ever.
3. Christophe's fifth graders did a play that was a series of vignettes about fear. Wow, um, some of these kids can act.
4. Sylvie, who organized and directed all of the plays, had her students perform a play that was a hodgepodge of a bunch of fairy tales.
The two fifth grade classes are huge, so each play got acted twice with mostly varied cast members.
I was handed the cameras and told to snap away! However, the kids moved around a lot so there were a lot of blurry pictures. I managed to get at least one picture of each student on stage, in addition to the curtain calls. I love my students!

Speaking of pictures, Christophe brought out the camera at Tuesday's lesson to add to the album he's creating for his students. "Here we are at the pool, here we are in English with Miss D...." I cannot wait to get pictures of my students.

Continental finally confirmed my flight to Syracuse!! Who wants to come pick up my tired little buns at the airport?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

La fille la plus chanceuse du monde.

I am the luckiest girl in the world.

It's part circumstantial, part preparation, part hard work, part faith, part pure darn luck.

My family supports and loves me, cheering me on.
My boyfriend loves and supports me.
My friends are still there after years of insanity.
I love my job here.
I probably have a job in New York.
I am genuinely happy.

This is not where I expected to be at 24 years old. Andy has always found my year-by-year plans rather rigid anyways. Who knows what can happen. And the alternatives can be just as exciting.

Everything is going to turn out fine because I am the luckiest girl in the world.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Madame Renson, Jean LeLoup, Patricia Martinez: 1; Rose: 0

When will I EVER learn?

Student-centered activities are where it's at. Give the students a structured and goal-oriented activity that they manage. You as the teacher can correct and referee disagreements, but the students interact with each other, not with you.

Example 1: This is for my fourth graders. I printed out five pictures each of living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms. (I'd like to thank Pottery Barn Kids and my now empty ink cartridge.) This is a fun and stupid easy review activity. Each kid gets a picture. I do an example, and then pick one of the better students to start.
Kid 1: What's this!
Kid 2: The kitchen!
Kid 1: (counts the objects in the room out loud) Three! What's in the kitchen!
Kid 3: A stove! Is in the kitchen!
Etc. I love it. I don't have to say anything.

Example 2: This is for my dim group of third graders. The bright third graders did the flyswatter game. I colored all six shapes in ten colors, so there were sixty shapes in all. (I am an idiot.) I passed out the shapes to the kids. I did an example and picked C* to do the example because he's the only kid with a clue in this class.
Kid 1: What shape is it!
Kid 2: It's a...purple...square!
Kid 1 sticks his shape on the wall and Kid 2 gets up and presents one of his shapes. First one to get rid of all of his shapes wins. And would you believe it but this was the best lesson this group has ever had? I was smiling from ear to ear. I can plan a decent activity but shy away immediately from implementing them in my lessons. It's a newbie teacher's fear of "losing control" of the class.

The exclamation points are direct quotes. Everything is exciting for them.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Why living in France rocks:

I woke up this morning in a funk. I dragged myself to the high school liberry (don't worry, my fifth graders say library) to get some work done and replan my lessons. Lunch at the high school cantine was lamb. I have hated every lamb plate I've ever tried so I ate at the apartment. I struggled through my three classes, and so did my students.

I finally got home a little after 5:00pm (that feels so weird to write). I had done some minor shopping at Leader Price for the basics. I did my exercises and took a shower. I made some dinner and watched some TV.

I then remembered that I had half a bottle of Loire Valley red wine. That glass has seriously made me feel better. It's not the alcohol; it's just something in red wine that makes me feel good. I like it. White wines will never do this for me. Yay for world-class high quality yet inexpensive wines to pick yourself up after a funky day.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

31-USA Day!!

That means I have thirty-one days until I land on American soil.

School Three is my least favorite school. The atmosphere is pleasant and very French "We'll do it when we get around to it," the teachers are very kind, and the directeur Mr. Barbe is a very gregarious fellow. The students mostly come from the Cité, which is the projects, and there is a strong Muslim population there. Other students live at the Gendarmerie Mobile, the police barracks. I like the school well enough but it just does not compare in terms of friendliness, openness, and an atmosphere in which I feel comfortable to Schools One or Two.

I work with only Virginie at School Three. Virginie teaches a combined 3rd/4th grade classroom. She is 27, and therefore the teacher closest in age to me. She has invited me to the school play, the hiking trip, the field trip to the Lascaux Caves (argh! I was busy that day!), to her home soon south of Ussel to go hiking, and most recently to the school's dinner dance fundraiser. I originally declined. I no longer have roommates to drag around, and Françoise is very busy. Well, I rethought it. I declined because I knew I would be uncomfortably alone. School Three's teachers are nice enough but they're very cliquey and while they acknowledge me, they don't include me. (There is an exception. Wait for it.) Virginie has reached out to me because she is the only one who has anything to with me officially. Also because she's also a fairly quiet person like me. So I agreed to go to the fundraiser with Virginie and her boyfriend.

So Virginie and her boyfriend Joselin (I know I'm spelling that wrong) picked me up and we got to the Salle Polyvalente (town conference hall thingy) around 8:30. There were tables lined up and a DJ playing music for the kids to "dance" around to. This was the progression of the evening:

8:30 - 10:00 Apéritif, which means overpriced drinkies at the bar with chips, greeting people where I got to bise (kiss-kiss greeting) a lot of people, watching the kids rock out to their bad selves, watch the DJ's fog machine destroy any ambiance, get to know Joselin a little and comiserate about not being familiar at all with these people or the situation, and get very hungry.

10:00 - 1:30 Meal, dancing, and random conversations. Everyone got served some overalcoholised punch. Joselin and I were left alone while Virginie helped out with the serving. She gave us strict instructions to speak only in English as he was going on vacation to Ireland. I recommended he visit the Ring of Kerry, and we discussed education, his job, my job, French politics, French cuisine, etc. Dinner was a salade composée, boeuf bourgignon, cheese, and fruit tarte. Very good food. During the entire meal, the DJ kept playing overly loud music, turning the lights on and off, and the fog machine was on full blast. It was virtually impossible to hold a conversation. A lot of my students were there, including a few of my awesome fifth graders from School Two! I desperately wanted to dance but I was so so so self-conscious. I learned to dance in American high schools, so my style has a lot of hip gyrating and moves that, from what I observed on this French dance floor, would only reinforce how NOT French I am. I finally got my butt out there, and Juanes' "La Camisa Negra" came on so I felt so much better. I of course scooted off the minute I heard the opening notes of "YMCA" and apologized to my table for my culture's contribution.

I also got the crazy idea that my legacy should be teaching all of my students the "Cotton Eye Joe" dance. What do you think?

I mentioned an exception. Valérie is a second grade teacher at School Three, the wife of Christophe the fifth grade teacher at School Two, and the mother of P*, one of the good kids in the ridiculous fourth grade class at School Two. Valérie is gorgeous. She's perpetually smiley (a rarity for French women!), blonde, and funny. Christophe is a lucky lucky man. (I think Christophe is a wonderful man as well, even if he is a little generous with the wine at times.) In an upcoming event that I am keeping under wraps because I am involved in a hysterical capacity, Valérie is portraying "the French Paris Hilton," an obnoxiously beautiful supermodel. When she talks to you, she touches you. I love Valérie and want to be her friend.

A high school in New York is super enthusiastic about me. I am super excited about them as well. A phone call Friday afternoon made me smile from ear to ear. If this works out, I will be the happiest girl in the world!

Today I have downloaded more music, printed out flashcards, planned lessons including many much student-centered activities, made hard-boiled eggs and Lemon Angel Pie. Now who to give it to...Madame Laugier, the proviseur/high school principal? Laurence and Serge next door?

I have a hotel reserved in Paris. I have a first-class one-way ticket to Paris. I have a plane ticket to Newark. I cannot believe I have to leave...I love this job and I love my life here, but I know it's not real. I miss you all so much! I'm coming home!

Friday, May 30, 2008

L2 teaching methods: a reflection

I have been thinking about second language learning, its application in New York, its application in France, my classroom training, and my experiential training. Language learning has gone through many permutations and fads in the past decades. My mother can tell you that teaching methods are cyclical in their usage: one year it's the hot new thing to do, only to be thrown out the next year, but come back ten years later. I've been wondering about the required methodology here in France, its subsequent results in the general French population's linguistic success, and how it compares with everything I've been taught.

As a student at Cortland, the word "communicative" was pounded into our heads. Our lesson plan formats focused on permutations of grammar concepts that used the vocabulary. I have, you have, she has, we have, you all have, they have tea. I have tea at noon. You have tea at two o'clock in the afternoon. One of my favorite lesosn plan formats is PACE, which stands for Presentation, Attention, Comprehension, Expansion. It works like a dream for introducing new grammar ideas without shoving a conjugation table in your students' bewildered faces. (What's a conjugation, and why have I never heard that word until French class?) The focus of a communicative classroom is, obviously, organic communication using the memorized vocabulary lists and grammar structures in culturally appropriate situations. As a methods student and as a student teacher, I struggled with developing and implementing student-centered activities. I'm very good at talking; everyone who knows me knows that all too well. What is difficult for me is to "give up control" of the classroom and let the students discover the language on their own, while I provide the materials and culturally appropriate situations in which to practice their newfound communicative ability. This communicative approach is not immediately comfortable for me, but I managed some success in my student teaching placements.

As an EFL teacher in France, I am bound by the same national curriculum that my colleagues must follow. There is a required pedagogical approach in language education, and it mostly involves memorizing structures and replacing various vocabulary words. My students completely understand themselves when they say "My mom's name is Marie; she is tall and pretty; she is in the kitchen." I am expressly told, "Do not teach them grammar. Conjugations are done in middle school. You are here to teach them to speak with an authentic accent, vocabulary, and culture." After a couple of workshops and very little oversight for a first year teacher, I am happy and proud to say that I've grasped this methodology fairly well. My third grade students can tell you their name, age, favorite color, favorite farm animal, the day, the month, shapes, count to 20; my third graders can tell you their name, age, favorite color, physical and personal description, describe their family, name 32 different foods, and now the rooms and furniture in the house; my fifth graders can tell you about the weather, their clothes, the time, school subjects, and places in town. I am very proud of the progress my students have made in their expressive ability, albeit very limited in scope. However, I'm not allowed to teach them grammar, and quite frankly there is just not enough time or cognitive development for it to be of much use. They are only nine years old. My students had the hardest time reading the penpal letters Mom and Maggie sent because they were written with organic syntax, something my students couldn't possible broach based on their education. It stressed them out, and me as well. I thought my students could communicate; why don't they see the words they do know? I realised that this methodology has taught them into a memorized, structure begets structure, uncommunicative corner.

Recently, I've realised that the methodology I use here in France is the Audiolingual Method, or ALM. This is the method used in my parents' language classrooms. The teacher speaks exclusively in the target language; the students listen and parrot the structures, replacing vocabulary words. Little attention is paid to grammatical structures or concepts. The joke in the language education world is that the first phrase the students learn to say in the language is something so situationally exclusive that it's virtually impractical - things like "May I have another cup of coffee please?" It's very teacher-centered, and students almost passive absorb the language through osmosis. (I have slept on my Spanish grammar book. I still cannot conjugate the subjunctive correctly on the first try.) This method matches the French educational system well, as it is authoritarian and focuses on rote memorisation. Students participate in class by posing and responding appropriately to questions. This method lends itself easily to TPR, or Total Physical Response. I observed a TPR classroom while at Cortland. I was amazed at the students' communicative abilities but they had no concept of conjugations or syntax. I do TPR a lot just because miming instructions in English is easier for me than trying to figure out if "au-dessous" or "en-dessous" or "dessus" means "on top of" or "underneath." I cannot keep those straight.

The antithesis to ALM is the communicative approach that was preached to me at Cortland. This approach acknowledges the necessity of metacognition in language learning - students have a right to learn how they're learning the language. Students are encouraged to think about the language and develop organic utterances based on the grammatical structures and vocabulary. The teacher presents using authentic texts lke stories, poems, videos, and songs. This method lends itself easily to student-centered activities like dialogues, skits, listening exercises, and other tasks that the NYS Regents tests and that the National Standards emphasizes. I fully maintain that while my French fifth graders rocked the socks off the NYS Checkpoint A written evaluation (a 100-word note), the painfully weak attempts of my New York eighth graders were more communicative and organic.

In the past weeks, I've been thinking about the differences of teaching in France, teaching in New York, how my experience in France will help or hinder teaching in New York, and what this means for me as a language teacher. Has this experience trained me the "wrong" way? I mean, I have been told time and again by Jean and Patricia, my methods instructors, that language education must be communicative and student-centered; my parents, both excellent teachers, remind me constantly "It's not about you, Rose;" my best mentor Rhonda told me "You are not 100% responsible for their successes or failures." All of these things tell me that what I'm doing in France is the opposite of my training and the expected methodology in New York. Am I in trouble when I return?

I maintain that this experience in France is invaluable both professionally and personally. I am learning so much immersing myself in The Real France, which is what I really wanted when I applied for this job. I will have so much to offer a class of students in New York. I am learning so much about classroom management and lesson preparation. I am learning so much about how students learn language. I am learning that my family is more than important, and that someday I want a family as well with the man who supports me and loves me. However, despite all the lessons this experience has taught me about myself, life, people, teaching, and language education, I can't help but wonder if this is a step backwards in the world I intend to enter upon my return. I mean, I'm practicing the "no-no" methodology! How can I enter a New York classroom and effectively teach using the New York and national standards, American textbooks, and New York teenagers? I feel like I need to observe a New York classroom before I dive back in again. However, due to my schedule and logistic needs, I will probably go from the airplane into a classroom.

My beach reading this summer includes my methods textbooks and Spanish literature textbooks. I really need to reintroduce myself to American education and language learning methodology.

For the four remaining weeks, I will continue my English lessons as I have before, but trying desperately to incorporate more student-centered activities. Let them free!

Thank you for reading. I love teaching, I really do; I just hope I'm not doing it "wrong."