Thursday, October 25, 2007

Not a good day.

Well, it was good this morning. This morning I went to School One, which is by far my easiest school with the coolest principal (Mr. M.). I have pretty much unlimited access to the copier, as long as no one else is waiting for it, and I only have two classes. The fourth grade class is really bright, and the third grade class is pretty good also (almost typed that in French) and the students want so badly to impress me. I like that.

Then to School Two for one class with the hardest of the four groups I have there. I gave croises (marks) in the regles de vie (class rules; essentially I gave them discipline marks) to two of the most offensive boys. S* took advantage of the fact that I didn't remember his name and B* feigns stupidity because "I took German last year." I don't care, you turn around and stop talking. Luckily their classroom teacher, Marie-Pierre totally backs me up. Ah this is my favorite school.

And then to School Three. Thursdays are my most exhausting days. Lots of walking, lots of classes, lots of different levels. I got fed up with my fourth graders and gave them lines to copy. I spoke with their classroom teacher, Virginie, who has been nothing but sympathetic and supportive of my struggles with F*. F* apparently sees a psychologist, and he also takes advantage of the fact that he's not entirely right in the head. I think he has a filter problem, as in he doesn't think before he speaks. His seven classmates tire of him very quickly, and respond beautifully when he is strictly disciplined.

I also got fed up with my third graders at this same school. Their classroom teacher is also Virginie (it's a combined class), and there are eleven of them. I love the Turkish boys and C*, the boy who was raised in Ghana. I cannot stand T* who corrects my French, S* who is going to be a pervert someday if he isn't already, and T2* who won't stop friggin moving. These kids respond really well to songs and games - they did so well with Concentration - but they do NOT SHUT UP. I tell them in French, "You are being rude. I'm talking. When I say Listen, you do not talk." Plain, simple, decently pronounced French. And they continue talking. I play the waiting game. They continue. So I gave them lines too. I would have stayed to speak with Virginie again but I feel so embarrassed that I can't maintain control of the classroom with either of her groups, and I was also just exhausted mentally and physically. I feel like I'm going downhill with these two groups, especially because they're in the same class. They feed off one another. The most offensive perpetrators in both of these groups are well-known to the really nice principal (Mr. B.), but doesn't sending the kids who misbehave to the office every single class destroy my authority and also inhibit their progress in English? I really wish I could just cut this whole school out of my schedule. It gives me nothing but headaches.

Also, I've joined the high school newspaper. There is a name, but I didn't quite get it down. Apparently everyone else understood. Go figure. It should be interesting...I think there's a lot of sections, there's a paper and web version, and overall I think it's rather ambitious, but French kids are more apt to do things of this nature than their American counterparts. When the first web version is posted in December I'll post the link.

I also called Pops and Grandma!!! They're back from Italy. Oh I can't wait to hear their stories and see their pictures. Pops said they ate so many croissants. Yep, that's the European hotel's idea of a "continental" breakfast. You want eggs and bacon and cereal, you go to the well-known American hotels like the Ritz.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

on internet searching and Anglophone resources

So I did a Google search for long distance relationships because why not, and the results were intriguing.
1. I'm tired of the first search result being a Wiki-something. Enough with Wikipedia, Wikibooks, Wikihow, Wikitravel.
2. Is there nothing the BBC can't do?? In addition to being a treasure trove of English education resources, it offers advice too? I can't wait for more BBC answers to my internet questions.
3. I am currently looking for a website that shows Scrubs and The Office (US version) online for free. doesn't work here, as my IP address shows I'm clearly outside of the US. I've been bouncing around but so far, I haven't found what I'm looking for. I could buy each episode for $1.99 through iTunes, but if it exists for free, I'd rather that. I have found Family Guy (and American Dad), and would also be interested in Robot Chicken.
My life is ridiculous. Who gets to work 12 hours a week, get two week vacations every two months, and do whatever they want for the remaining hours?? I have got to find some more liberry books.

Fun things that have happened recently, in list form:

1. The annoying fourth graders at School Three did really well with a dialogue exercise. There are only eight of them, but it's eight really strong personalities. Once I sent F* to the principal's office, they did much better, and when he was sent back, even he did well with the dialogue. Lucky his partner was Nice T* (not to be confused with Rude T* in the third grade class School Three) who helped him out quite a bit.

2. My two fifth grade classes at School Two were amazing. We did "What are you wearing? What is he/she wearing? I'm wearing... She/He's wearing..." in a telephone game and it worked SO well. I was so impressed. A good clue that an activity is working is when I'm not talking anymore. That means that the students understand the directions and they're actively participating and behaving. It was really cool. They totally get the structure of the sentences, and I'm just really proud of them. They're really smart kids.

3. One of my fourth grade classes at School Two just could not get the hang of the structure "I'm from France. I'm French." It was really frustrating. It was odd because this class is usually better than their counterparts at School Three. Oh well. Moving on.

4. I officially have my recepisse (receipt, sort of) for my residency card!! This is fantastic news. Granted, it expires two weeks after my visa does but the lady at the office told me I should have my real residency card by then. Hooray!!

5. I bought a coaxial cable and now we have television. All five (I think?) free channels. Oh the decadence...Ben doesn't watch tv (really?) but Rocio was really looking forward to it so for 6E, we have tele. Woohoo.

6. Vacation is coming up and I really don't want to wait for two very full days to go by before I can get on trains and start moving! I want to see more things than plain simple tranquil Ussel.

7. I'm having some difficulty uploading pictures online. Yahoo! Photos has become Flickr, and I haven't figured out Flickr's terminology. They have "sets" and "collections" and I don't know how to work it. Blogspot/Blogger, the site that hosts my blog, and Picassa are both part of the Google conglomerate, so there's something there I'm not quite getting. Dad uses DotPhoto but I'm just trying to find the simplest way for me to upload and then for others to easily access my photos. Hm.

8. Happy and safe. :)

Miss you and love you all!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Toussaint Vacation

The upcoming October break is called Toussaint (All-Saints) and is from Saturday, October 27 to Tuesday, November 6. However, I don't have lessons on Wednesdays so my own vacation is until November 7. Here is where I'm going, what I'm doing, and where I'm staying:

Sat. 10/27: Ussel -> Montignac
Montignac is a good base for exploring the Lascaux Caves, which have prehistoric cave paintings.
I will be staying at Hotel de la Grotte

Mon. 10/29: Montignac -> Les Eyzies de Tayac-Sireuil
Les Eyzies de Tayac-Sireuil
Les Eyzies (blah blah blah) has more prehistoric cave paintings, but unlike Lascaux, these are the real things.
I will be staying at hotel de France Auberge du Musee, part of a partially-government funded hotel chain. God I love France.

Wed. 10/31: Les Ezyies -> Sarlat-La-Caneda
Sarlat is a pretty village with castles and old stuff. Ben recommended it when I mentioned it as a possibility.
I will be staying at Hotel de la Madeleine.

Fri. 11/2: Sarlat -> Cahors
Cahors is another pretty village with more castles and old stuff. Karine, a marketing teacher here at the high school, lives in Cahors and has given me her phone number so we could possibly meet up. Apparently Cahors is where the Roman wine-making tradition still is, as in this is where they make the oldest wine. I tried some; it's good stuff.
I will be staying at Auberge de Jeunesse de Frederic Suisse, the only youth hostel on the trip.

Sun. 11/4: Cahors -> Lourdes
Lourdes is a Catholic pilgrimage site where the waters in a cave that a little girl saw visions of the Virgin Mary are said to heal people. The last confirmed case was an Italian woman cured of rheumatoid arthritis or something of that nature. Catholic mythology is enthralling.
I will be staying at Hotel Viscos.

Wed. 11/7: Lourdes -> Ussel
This leg of the trip will probably take all day. Hopefully I can find another liberry book.

I'm very excited!!!

I don't know what day it is

This morning Rocío and I headed to the train station at 5:30am to catch the train to Limoges. We had our mandatory immigrants' doctor's appointment today, and since the only train that could get us to Limoges on time left at 6:24am, we had to get up really early. We took a taxi to the clinic because I'm super lazy and prefer to have a nice man drive us there in a warm heated car with leather seats than figure out which bus takes us the closest and then walk. So we get to the clinic and who walks in the waiting room but Courtney!! My buddy from DC! How happy was I to see her. Ah I really like her. She's smart and funny and cute. Ah. Anyways. My appointment was first, and the first order of business was a chest x-ray. For this I had to take everything on top off, including my bra. I was prepared for this, but Rocío had been freaking out for a week about having to be anywhere near unclothed. I asked the doctor afterward why they do it and apparently it's tuberculosis screening. I was weighed (62kg, or 136lbs so not bad) and measured (172cm? does that sound right?) and he checked my heart or my pulse, can't remember because I was trying too hard to relax (it always happens), checked my vaccination records against a chart (thanks Dad! that really helped), and asked me if was on any medications (my prescription wasn't that big of a deal apparently, and I had even brought a copy of it in case) and if I had ever had any serious illnesses. And that was it! I was given a certificate of the visit to bring to the Sous-Préfecture and my chest x-ray. I really should find a way to post it online, it's fascinating. You can see the outline of my boobs and my scoliosis, which looks a lot worse in x-ray form. What a great souvenir. The doctor was really nice and patient.

Rocío and I found the bus stop across the street from the clinic (stop, I like taxis) and headed back downtown. Then since I had a good 2.5 hours to kill before the next train to Ussel, I dragged poor Rocío to the Tourism Office in Limoges to see if they had any information about the places I'm going to visit for the upcoming vacation. The lady handed me one brochure. Not so helpful. I miss the girls at the Tourisme Office in La Rochelle - they had everything and never hesitated when I asked for information. :-( Sad. Anyways. I chilled in the train station with a really crappy sandwich, reading my liberry book and waiting for the train. And then I fell asleep in the train. I have got to stop that, it's really not good! I could be reading, or writing postcards, or doing Sudoku puzzles...

So I dropped off a copy of my medical visit certificate at the Sous-Préfecture and discovered that yes, I do in fact have my récepissé! This document is temporary (it expires January 14, 2008) but is in fact proof that I have applied for and am in the process of receiving a real residency card! This is fantabulous news. They still want to see my original birth certificate, which bothers me. French administration doesn't realize that if I give them my original American birth certificate, getting a new one is not an easy thing. It's not something you give up so easily for anything. Copies, always. But I'll bring the original and the original translation and refuse to surrender either. I need those suckers. If the French postal service wasn't so iffy about mail security I'd mail home my original so Dad could put it back in the safety deposit box, but as it is, I feel more secure knowing its whereabouts at all times. Which is in my official purple folder.

So Ben came back from classes and we unsuccessfully tried to hook him up to the Livebox. He has a Mac, so we're trying to translate my PC's settings to his Mac's settings. And neither of us are particularly well-versed in technology so it was difficult. That conversation was in English.

Tonight, I'm going to dinner at the cantine, Andy and I are going to Skype, I'm going to make sure I'm ready for my lessons for at least Tuesday, and Ben is going to frog around on the Toshiba because we've also disabled his access to the crappy school network. Whoopsies.

Love you all!!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

good news

So in my lesson planning, I found this website:

Free streaming Family Guy episodes on demand. HEAVEN considering I'm missing the sixth season.

This has virtually nothing to do with preparing elementary EFL lessons but more to do with the sudden attack of homesickness today.

Sucks that I can't watch them with Andy.

boring sunday

Yesterday was pretty quiet. Bought a train ticket to my doctor's appointment, got cash, got lunch. Didn't do much in the way of school work, which is still stumping me. Why aren't my fourth graders all doing the same thing? Igh. I'll just push the dumb fourth graders. I'm sorry, they're not dumb, they're just ridiculous.

I'm suddenly feeling really lonely. Maybe it's because I've got Yahoo Radio playing and that makes me homesick. Maybe it's because I'm online, AIM is open but no one's awake. I miss my parents and brothers a lot. I miss Andy and Maggie.

Rocio got a text message from Blandine this morning inviting us to lunch today. We both were hesitant because the last time we were invited for lunch, granted there was a hiking trip involved, but we didn't get home until about 11:30pm. And we have stuff to do. And we have a 6:30am train to catch tomorrow morning. So we texted her back and said thank you but no thank you. We haven't gotten a reply so hopefully she wasn't too insulted. I dunno, we're not obligated to accept every invitation and we really do have things to do. It's not North American to be invited to lunch and stay for the whole friggin day. It really made us feel awkward last time. Maybe there's a polite way to explain to Blandine the next time we see her without insulting her traditional French hospitality.

I have all but one city's worth of hotels reserved but since the train website doesn't really recognize my town's train station (I can't figure it out yet), I don't have any train tickets yet. All right, I have one and it's being mailed to me but I don't know if it'll get here in time. I'm excited! Yay vacation.

Yeah mostly I'm just lonely and I miss familiar faces.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

not much

So the France Orange technician came yesterday at 2pm prompt and frogged around with my Livebox. He wasn't able to figure out why the Wifi didn't work, and felt bad about it even though that wasn't what he was sent to do (silly tech support lady), and when I asked him how and who to pay, he shook his head and said No. About an hour later, he calls and says his fellow France Orange technician buddy is here and they're going to frog around with my connection. After about a half an hour of putzing around and mostly trying to translate my English computer, they discovered the problem was an IP address entered by Rodolphe the high school's IT dude to connect to the school server. So I'm online. Granted the signal goes in and out at random times but it works and it's mine and I have unfettered access to the websites and web-based software as I please.


Also last night I was invited to Marie-Jo's house for dinner. Marie-Jo is another English teacher at the high school, who back when she was younger, was also a language assistant in England. So she understands the difficulties in being far away from home. Her daughter Elsa was also there, along with Elsa's baby son Thibault. Thibault is a doll and I got to hold him and play with him a lot. I'm not too sure how old he is - his teeth are not yet in but that's apparently delayed and he's just walking but always holding someone's hand. He's not really talking, just word fragments. Dinner was smoked salmon for an entree, broccoli puree (it's better than it sounds and bright green), confit de canard with lentils, regional cheeses, and pastries. And delightful conversation. Every Friday night for the last thirty years, Marie-Jo has watched this program called Thalassa, which is about the sea and anything about the sea. Currently the program is doing a world tour, and last night stopped in the South Pacific. Fascinating. It was really a nice evening.

Today Rocio and I went to the train station to get tickets to Limoges where our mandatory immigration medical visit is, get money from the ATM, and have lunch at the least impressive sandwich shop ever. But the radio played some American music I recognized, and that was interesting.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how to get to the towns I want to visit for the vacation that starts next least reserve some hotels! In any case, I'm happy. Rocio just bought me a pastry because I bought her lunch. She's awesome.

Friday, October 19, 2007

ok I obviously got the dates wrong

Sunday September 30, 2007
Today I woke up entirely too early for a Sunday, but with unavoidable tasks. I went to the train station, which is a 30 minute walk (ugh), to buy my train tickets for the various orientations I have in two different cities. Hopefully they’re the right times. I know I’m getting into City #1 well ahead of time, and Marie-Claude has told me it’s probably best to take a taxi to the place (IUFM, which is kind of like a teachers’ college). Other than that, if it doesn’t work, no big deal. Those three tickets cost me a total of ~20E. Um, thank you Carte 12-25. Between the ages of 12 and 25, you can buy this 49E card that gives you discounts on virtually all trains, and often the discounts are near 50%. It’s a good deal. My other errand this morning was to purchase a small bouquet of flowers for Marie-Claude, because if you’re invited to someone’s house, it’s traditional and polite to bring something like flowers, chocolate, or if possible, some regional specialty. I’m fresh out of regional New York specialties (I gave away the two bottles of maple syrup that Mom picked up for me at the Farmers’ Market), so I got a small 10,50E bouquet. It was really pretty and that is going to be my florist from now on. This is the second bouquet I’ve purchased from them since I’ve been here (that says something, doesn’t it), and they are so patient and helpful and the bouquets are absolutely beautiful. And inexpensive.
So anyways, I bought the bouquet for Marie-Claude to whom I still refer as Madame because she hasn’t corrected me yet because she invited me over for lunch today. She, as mentioned before, is a music teacher, and Olivier is a musician as well. Olivier has obviously studied some English as well, as he kept trying to translate his (very very very verbose) conversations into English even though I completely understood what he was saying and demonstrated such by my responses. They have a hyperactive 5 ½ year old daughter named Camille who is obsessed with princesses and fairies. She’s adorable and was fascinated with my presence. She is just learning how to write and also the syllables in preparation for reading. She was a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t be teaching her class English, and showed off the only English phrase she knew: “My name is Camille.” Soooo cute! Can all of my students be that precious? Lunch was a small aperitif of pineau, a liquor from Ile de Ré which is off the coast of La Rochelle. It’s super sweet. Also there was regional sausage which tasted a little tripe-y, but still decent. Thank goodness for peppercorns. Dinner consisted of an entrée of this casserole of lard, bits of ham, egg, potato, and prunes. I tried my best but did not do very well. The main dish was crêpes (yay!) à l’usseloise with ham and cheese. Oh thank goodness. Then there was the cheese. I LOVE cheese. It smells pretty bad but it tastes awesome. Then we went to the Point des Millevaches, which is not “Thousand-Cow Point” like it immediately translates, but is a standard French approximation of some Occitan (south-central France) word. Olivier explained it but I forgot. Basically it’s a lookout tower on top of a huge hill/tiny mountain where you can see ALL of Corrèze. Wow. I just couldn’t articulate how incredible it was to see so much of France, how pretty it all was, how friggin picturesque it all was, and how beautifully mundane. Like there was nothing special to see, just France. But that’s beautiful. It looked a lot like the view from on top of the Ski Hill behind the house at home. And that made me sad. Or homesick. Or lonely. Then we went back to their house where Olivier and Marie-Claude gave me a little recital of traditional regional music on bagpipe-like instruments, a vielle (kind of like a violin crossed with an accordion that has a crank), and Marie-Claude’s violin. Really neat stuff. Olivier is off his rocker – he makes wind instruments out of ANYTHING, including plastic drinking straws. He also talks a LOT.
It was really nice of Marie-Claude to invite me over. When I thanked her, she said “Well, I just try to put myself in your place.” I guess I see her point: the hardest part about this trip, I can tell now, isn’t going to be French bureaucracy or teaching (although that should prove immensely challenging), but rather the lack of familiar faces. I miss my family and my boyfriend and my friends a lot. It’s nice to see the new people here in France like Marie-Claude, Françoise, and the English teachers so much because they’ll become familiar and even comforting. I find Ben to be immensely comforting, just his presence, because we at least have a mildly similar background (we both understand the love-hate relationship of WalMart, etc). And yet I hardly know Ben.
My train tomorrow morning is at 6.30ish, and it’s a half hour walk, and I want to be there early, so I have to wake up stupid early. Ugh. Rocío and Ben left today for the orientation, but I had the invite to Marie-Claude’s and also I just didn’t want to go today. I’m sincerely hoping that my questions regarding my residency card, social security/health insurance card, and classroom management will be answered in these next two days.
I also hope this week will provide some answers to the communication embargo I’m under at the moment. While it’s very nice that the high school has offered the computers in the library and the teachers’ room to use whenever we like, Ben and I both have laptops with webcams for a reason, and the library and teachers’ room close. I want to TALK and SEE people – it’s possible in this day and age, and in this country that friggin invented the jumbo jet (see Airbus).
I should go to bed. I’m not tired, but being awake makes me lonely.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Day 25

This coming Monday will mark my first full month in France. Wow.

Today went all right. Thursdays are exhausting because I start at 8:30am, go to all three schools, and get home just before 5:00pm. It’s long.

Kids I can’t smack:
T* refuses to listen to anything I say in English or French because “I don’t understand when you speak English” and “You don’t speak French very well.” Well, is there something I should be doing so you do understand? No? Ok, then I fully expect you to behave, do as I say, and respect your classmates. He’s in third grade.
F* is a jerk. He harasses other kids for the sake of being That Kid. He’s just the obnoxious kid, but not at all in the smart witty kind of obnoxious. He’s annoying and the rest of his class (there’s only eight!) can’t stand him. When I led them back to their classroom, virtually all of them asked me “You’re going to tell the teacher about him, right?” Oh yes. Oh yes. This is only the second lesson, and I’ve already separated him from the others, given him lines to copy, and scolded him in rude harsh French in front of the class. Next time he’s out of line he’s going to the principal’s office. Let Monsieur B. deal with him. I really don’t want him in the class. There are enough other strong personalities, like M* (eesh she’s going to be a handful when she’s a teenager) and T*(dorky awkward little girl who acts like a friggin princess).
W* (that’s his real name) has the best accent in his fourth grade class but he’s an asshole and disrupts everyone. He’s also the ringleader for him and three other boys, so I really would hope that taking him out of the picture would calm things down.

Kids I can’t adopt:
C* spent his first three years (he’s in third grade now) of school in a bilingual school in Ghana. He speaks English with virtually no accent, and his French is normal. I feel terrible for him because we’re doing friggin NUMBERS and he’s the only one who knows exactly what I ask for. I really have got to find something more fun for him to do, like enrichment activities. Anything! If his parents would let him stay after school for a half an hour, we could do something more fun together.
Ophélie is adorable and has just the sweetest face and voice. Omg want to hug her. She makes good efforts too, and usually succeeds. That’s impressive, considering she sits in the back of the room.
L* lives in an apartment building up the street from me, I’ve learned. She sits in the front with her friend who isn’t quite as bright as she is. She is very smart and catches on quickly. She makes such an effort to imitate my pronunciation as best as she can. I really like her.
Ah I don’t remember his name but he’s one of L*'s classmates – he’s really smart, kind of a smart-aleck, but quick to catch on and totally understands what’s expected. I like him a lot.
There's another L* who is just as intelligent, and whenever I need someone to give a perfect and audible (that's always important) example, I know I can count on her. She makes such an effort to imitate my accent. Ah I love her.
A* is a third grader whose vocal cords are set on ultra-soprano. It’s unbelievable to hear him speak – I mean squeak – the little sentences I ask of them. Omg he’s unreal.

What I don’t understand is why these children continue to talk over me and their classmates, even when I tell them in French “You do not speak when your classmates are speaking, and you do not speak when I am speaking. It’s rude and disrespectful.” I really should have given my fourth graders at School Three crosses in their règles de vie today…I’ll ask Virginie (their classroom teacher) if I can do that. They’re unreal.

The French really do expect their children to be better behaved than this, and when they misbehave, they’re told in very stern and what I would consider harsh language that it is not tolerated at all and that they immediately affect others around them. Language here places a lot of emphasis on others and the inequality of others – we’re not all the same – and that in effect devalues a little the individual. Indeed, there is little here that is private. The State, especially in the school, occupies the space. Everyone pretty much has the same dishcloths and mailbox color; there was even a box of socks and underwear in the teachers’ room in School Three for students. Like new socks and underwear. On the other hand, there is so much that is not discussed, like your name, what you do for a living, what your parents do, your family situation, etc., things that normally come up in an American conversation to gauge the person’s place in society. As a result, I, and Ben agrees, have a hard time “reading” people. I can’t immediately, or even after speaking with them on multiple occasions, divine people’s social places – what do you spend your money on, what education do you have, what does your spouse do, what are your children like, etc. It’s a lack of social context. It’s frustrating and makes one lonely.

I have three classes tomorrow, starting at 8:30am. Hopefully the France Orange technician will come tomorrow, because if he doesn’t I’m going to hurt something. I want me some freakin internet, goddammit. (Ben agrees with me, but in less harsh words.)

Miss home, miss Mom, miss Dad, miss Peter, miss Nicholas, miss Andy. End.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Day 24

So today sucked.

I didn’t get much done today in the way of lesson planning. I can’t figure out why my fourth grade classes don’t match. I have three different schools of fourth grade classes and somehow I’m doing three different things with each of them. It shouldn’t be like that. There’s a national curriculum. Granted, the schools use different textbook series, one of which I cannot figure out (prolly should be getting the teacher’s book next week) but it’s the same damn stuff, right? So what’s my problem? Also there’s the fourth grade class that missed their first lesson of the week so I’m trying really hard to figure out if they’re going to be able to cram the entire week’s worth of material into sixty minutes. Probably not because that’s the class that got crosses in their règles de vie (classroom rules) last time. Glorious.

This afternoon, I had four tasks: buy good French shoes, preferably that can be weatherproofed; buy chapstick; have tea and pastry at Céline’s, the at the amazing bakery up the street from us; go to France Telecom and figure out how to hook up the internet. I bought French shoes and they’re pretty good. I’ll test them out tonight. I found chapstick at a pharmacie. Céline’s is amazing, omg I love it there. Depending on whether I can maintain this routine, I’ll be there every Wednesday afternoon for tea, pastries, and leisure reading. Strange, I know.

Then came the France Telecom debacle. We (me and Ben) opened up a phone line for the sole purpose of hooking up a Livebox, which is a high-speed modem with wireless capabilities. No contract, 24.90E/month plus 3E/month for the Livebox rental. Sweet. However, because it is France, we had to wait two days for the (nonworking, as in we can’t hook a real phone up to it) phone line to be opened, and today at the France Telecom store I discovered that in fact the Livebox internet connection is open as of today. After speaking with two different people at the store, I had very specific illustrated instructions to make this magic box work. I think I got it arranged properly on my computer, but when the installation CD tries to connect to the Livebox, it keeps telling me that there’s a connection error, or more specifically that the WiFi security key is incorrect and if I changed the IP address. It isn’t incorrect, and no I didn’t change shit. So as the last resort of any French person, I called tech support. For 0.34E/minute. ~7E later, a technician will be here on Friday afternoon between 2pm and 5pm to work his magic on the phone line, the Livebox, my computer and Ben’s iMac. This will be prohibitively costly, but I just CANNOT figure it out. The lady on the phone with tech support was as patient as she could be but seriously, how many times can you get “I don’t understand” and be patient? I just don’t get it. She said our Livebox is not “synchronized” and I wasn’t even going to go there because I haven’t the foggiest idea what it needs to be synchronized to. Some satellite? Whatever. Some tech dude is going to show up Friday and make it work. He better or I’m going to friggin punch something. It was really frustrating to do all of this because there is just NO way this was going to be a Good French Day. No one was going to compliment me on my French, and I was just not going to understand a damn word. I barely understand what the hell is going on with Time Warner, let alone the partially or formerly state-owned French telecommunications monopoly (holy crap and the French sued Microsoft…gimme a break) and ogre known as France Telecom. So the tech support lady on the phone wasn’t the nicest but she tried hard. “I can tell you’re not French and you don’t really understand what I’m saying…” blah blah blah and other things because seriously, phone conversations are damn near impossible for me. Add vocabulary I’m only starting to learn: example, the little blinking lights on the Livebox are called “voyants.” That’s a new word as of three hours ago. Nice to know there’s still some French to learn.

Today sucked and I had a dream with Andy in it last night. I miss home. I miss my parents and my brothers and Andy a lot.

I haven’t made a single plan for Toussaint, my October break yet. I know where I want to go and in what order, but I can’t find the exact dates for the vacation as every place I look and every person I ask gives me a different answer. Also I haven’t booked any train tickets or hotel rooms because I’m not comfortable doing that on the school liberry computers, although I’ll have to if the internet doesn’t happen on Friday.

My angry French is getting better.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Day 22

Today I had four classes: fourth grade, fifth grade, fifth grade, fourth grade. The day started out a little hitchy, as I thought Ben, one of the intern teachers (that means he lives here like we do) and I were supposed to meet with Rodolphe the IT dude to discuss how much the school network sucks in the internat. However, no one was to be found, not even Rodolphe. IT people really have a monopoly on the technology services. Rar. Anyways, I went to my first school, School Three WAY early in order to make sure that my lesson for today was set. It was. Also to make sure that the lunch ladies (what do you call them in French?) knew that I was there and would be eating there every Tuesday.

My fourth grade class at School Three has eight students – four girls, four boys. F* is an obnoxious brat who bothers EVERYONE and E* is a whiner who thinks everyone hates them. Guess what happened. F* pissed off E*, and E* punched F*. Greaaat. I took F* out of the group and had him copy the numbers – just the numbers – 0-20 because he was generally being a pest. Oh, I think they also learned their numbers 0-20 and how to say how old they are. Maybe. We’ll have to do that a lot more on Thursday. After the lesson I told their teacher, Virginie, what happened. I felt so embarrassed that a situation would get THAT out of hand, but apparently this is what those two do, and often. So Virginie pulled – and I mean pulled them both by the arm with force – into the principal’s office (dude I love the principal, he’s almost as cool as the principal at School One) and scolded them both harshly. I got to be there too. It was really important to see how children are disciplined in a French school and what consequences come of it. I feel terrible about what happened, and I feel terrible when I see how upset the kids get when they’re being scolded, but dude. Keep your hands to yourself; if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all; no hitting. Kindergarten rules, guys.
Lunch at School Three blew. Only two other teachers ate the school lunch and it wasn’t all that great. Sucks.

I then went to School two which is quickly becoming my favorite school. The principal teaches English as well and is super excited to see me; the other teachers couldn’t be more supportive or friendly. Ah I love this school. I don’t like that the kids still call me Maîtresse, which is way too French for an English lesson but I’ll fix that. Eventually.

My two fifth grade classes were AWESOME. We did colors and then flowed seamlessly into clothing. I gave them homework which they will be sure to do, I’m so excited. If they do it they get a sticker, I’ve already decided. Awesome. On Friday we’ll expand it to other people wearing colored clothing. So neat. AH! I love this school. One of the fifth grade teachers whose name I only know as Sylvie because the three times I’ve written her last name I’ve gotten it completely wrong has asked me to tutor her daughter who is in her last year of high school in English! How much should I charge? The last time I tutored it was for Darlene and she paid me in stuff because I just can’t take my neighbor’s money…and before that it was for school and they paid me $7.00/hour. I’m thinking 15€/1.5 hour session…does that sound reasonable? I don’t really want to take this teacher’s money but then again, I’d like to be compensated for the work I’m going to put into this. Ah I can’t WAIT! English conversations about TV shows and shopping and boys and stupid girls and so much fun stuff. Everyone send me copies of stuff – Maggie, can you make copies of your Friends DVDs? That would be super sweet. We can discuss those. I’m really excited. I was surprised, actually, that Sylvie asked me about this because Ben is the high school assistant…shouldn’t she approach him first? I told her about him but she’s like yeah but I’m asking you. Ok. I told Ben after school and he was happy for me and was all for it. I just don’t want to steal his students, you know? Ah I’m excited.

My fourth grade class today did Anglophone countries and the structures “Where are you from? I’m from ___.” Not bad, they’ll get better. They take FOREVER to copy from the board, and not just because they have trouble reading my handwriting but because they are SO friggin particular about HOW things go in their notebooks. They ask me things like “Do I underline in red? Do I underline on the next big line or the next little line? Do I skip lines? How many lines? One line? What color pen do I write in? Do I write in pencil? I made a smudge on the other page!” and other ridiculosities. To all of their questions, my response is “Yes; That’s ok.” Which makes for some hiLARious situations, but honestly, I couldn’t care less how they format their notebook pages as long as they copy exactly what I’ve written and how I’ve written it because I’ve included all the formatting I feel is necessary. The classroom teacher for this particular class always has this look on her face like she’s unconvinced of their mastery of the structures, she doesn’t think they understand or that they’re paying attention…she makes me nervous sometimes. Also, D* who sits in the front row was fooling around, basically being nine years old, and Catherine (the classroom teacher) got up from her desk and PULLED him – again, by the arm and with force – to the back of the room and there he stood until we did notebook work. I didn’t think he was that bad but I felt really embarrassed that Catherine felt it necessary to do that. This again points to my confusion of what exactly to respond to in terms of classroom disruptions and it’s not just cultural here. There are classroom management skills I’m definitely missing. Another embarrassing situation.

Karine (another; there are two English teachers at the high school) is a marketing teacher here at the high school and has invited me and Ben (ok, mostly Ben) to a brewery in Limoges that she has connections to, and to her home in Cahors, a city I’d like to visit for Toussaint. She is SUPER sweet and with a history/geography teacher, had a scintillating discussion on the apathy and passiveness of today’s teens. Simultaneously encouraging and discouraging it was to see that teens are alike pretty much everywhere, at least in the Western world. So cool.

Tomorrow I plan on making sure my lessons are all prepared, buying French shoes, and sitting for a few hours in the tea salon at the bakery up the street to read and to attempt intelligence. Maybe Ben’s new schizophrenic friend will be there. Ironically her name is Claire.
Oh France, you kill me.

Addendum: Madame la Proviseur, aka the high school principal, just knocked/rang our doorbell to ask if we had found the brioche (sweet eggy bread) she left at our door last night. We had, we just had no idea who it was from. It was made with homemade chestnut flour and has raisins. It was delicious. Um, yes we did find it…it was from YOU? Holy cow…
Ben: Is it just me or are you getting tired of people being really nice to you?
Me: Um, yeah. It’s getting harder and harder to graciously accept the invitations for dinner, apéritifs, shopping, gifts, and general help.
She’s going to drop off some more bread on Sunday.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Monday, October 15, 2007

Wow, this past few days have really been full. I definitely still have an American mentality when it comes to teaching, as lesson planning and material preparation consume most of my waking hours. And food and communication. Other than that, I’m pretty sedentary. HA.

Saturday, I went grocery shopping (well, sort of) with Monsieur Paillous, a colleague of Françoise at the school business office (intendance). We went to LeClerc, which makes it the third time I’ve been there. LeClerc and its competitors Auchan, Intermarché, Carrefour, and others are the French equivalents of Super WalMarts, Targets, and KMarts. The LeClerc in Ussel actually has an attached Home Depot LeClerc, Garden LeClerc, and Dick’s LeClerc (although it leans more toward hunting and fishing and hiking). Anyways. I bought more water including fizzy water which is just delightful, French chocolate bowls (see the picture), and a PRINTER! It’s a Lexmark printer/scanner/copier (/fax) and works beautifully, especially after I stopped at the office supply store today on my way home from School Two to pick up the printer->computer cable, which was not included. Joy. Monsieur Paillous (I’m sure he has a first name but I haven’t been told/figured it out yet – a French quirk about meeting people is that you don’t ever really know someone’s name until a few exchanges into your conversations…it can be frustrating for an American!) has also invited the three of us (me Ben Rocío) to an apéritif (drinks and snackies before dinner) with the other lady who works in the intendance, Madame Robby-Menardi. How sweet! Everyone here is SO nice and welcoming. Warm, pleasant, and genuinely interested in our well-being and happiness. Makes me feel ok.

On Sunday, the three of us were invited on a mushroom hike with Blandine, one of the English teachers who has been with us practically every step of the way. Um, it was pretty much a three-hour hike through the French countryside – on country roads, on forest paths that I’m sure are not on any map – and I rolled my ankle three steps into it. Eesh. I’m ok but it still hurts a bit, much less than on Sunday, but on Wednesday I’m buying some friggin French shoes. Good ones that support my ankles. I also have a blister but I have band-aids so I’m ok. So anyways, it’s supposed to be a mushroom hike but we found no mushrooms. So when we went back to Blandine’s house her husband François took us out in their Ford SUV (I’ve never heard of a Ford Maverick but ok) and we went through some more woods, more country roads, and some paths that I’m sure were never meant for cars to be on. Ever. But we did find some mushrooms, mostly flat, slightly orangey-pinky-white ones called “pieds de mouton” (sheeps’ foot…I didn’t see the resemblance) that when sautéed up with some oil and garlic were DELICIOUS. Oh, did I mention that before this hike, Blandine made us lunch? Yeah,roast chicken, boiled potatoes (home-grown), mushrooms (girolles which are bright orange and look like trumpets and cèpes which are enormous and look kinda like the Chinese dancers from Fantasia). Omg so good. Yummy. Dinner when we came back from the mushroom odyssey was omelettes with “trompettes de la mort” (death trumpets which are dried girolles and are deathly black), salad, sautéed pieds de mouton, cheese (omg CHEESE – Camembert which smells to high heaven and tastes like heaven, bleu, and Comté which is like Swiss without the holes), and ICE CREAM! (Note to self: rum raisin ice cream is good to try in order to say you don’t like it.) It was really nice. François also makes liquors from almost everything – we tried a number of liquors, including a tarragon liquor I’d like to call “insta-ulcer.” Neat. We also watched the last half of the Rugby World Cup Semi-Finals between South Africa (why is there ONE black dude on the team) and Argentina. Argentina lost so they play against France for third place. South Africa will play against England for the Cup. Rugby players are FUGLY. Worse than American football players. Holy Neanderthals.

Today I had three classes scheduled. I got up at a good hour to do some last-minute material preparation in the teachers’ room, where a bunch of the high school teachers stopped and talked to me which is really nice. They’re so sweet. Françoise also came looking for me, saying I had a package!!! When did Mom and Dad send that, because it got here SUPER fast. Wow, that was SO exciting. :-( Made me miss home. But anyways. Had lunch at the cantine (cafeteria) with some of the other teachers…I have yet to finish an entire meal…they’re just not that good. I mean, one of the sides was steamed chestnuts. I tried them. They taste like steamed nuts. Not so much. Then I went to School One. They’re really, um, *enthusiastic* children. Meaning they bounce off the walls despite clear instructions – and you wouldn’t BELIEVE the instruction they ask for, especially anything concerning their notebooks. Eesh. One kid in my third grade class is really a handful. His name is W* – that’s exactly what his parents have on his birth certificate – and he TALKS NON-STOP. However, he’s one of a handful in this class that knows exactly the answer to every question, and his American English accent is impeccable. Unfortunately, he talks entirely too much out of turn and in French so I gave him lines to copy in his notebook. He totally didn’t get anything near what I wanted done, but that wasn’t the point. I took him aside at the end of the lesson too, and I think that will improve his behavior. He’s also the ringleader a group of about four other boys who I almost gave lines to today as well. He was good to make an example out of. I will say that those third graders KNOW their numbers 0-12 and how to ask and answer the question “How old are you?”. So cool. So cool.

My next school on Mondays is School Two, a half-hour fourth grade lesson. However, after I raced the three blocks to the school, panting and sweating, the teacher who usually greets me (again, no idea what her name is other than “Merci Madame”) told me that the fourth graders are in the video room and that there will not be an English lesson today. Oh, ok. It really wouldn’t have mattered if they had told me on Friday – I really have a bad memory – but it sucks because (1) the kids miss a third of their English time for the week (2) I won’t be there next Monday because I have the mandatory immigration doctor’s appointment that even if I change will invariably be on another school day and (3) dude I’M HERE. But no matter. They have a full sixty minutes for the next lesson and I’m sure we can accomplish quite a bit.
When I got home, I finally opened the package – brownie mix, goldfish, Double Stuf Oreos (Ben believes that those are the only kind of Oreos that should be allowed; I agree), Dino BBQ sauce, more New York State maple syrup, a little thing of honey because I’m the honey bunch!, ranch dressing and mix (I think I’ll give it to Blandine and maybe she could do something neat with it), Jello, Jello molds, Momma-made Halloween cookies, the Thurman Munson shirt I’ve been looking for (thank you!!!), some random Halloween stuff, and basically thoughts from home. It was really really really special to have some reminder of home, even though I’ve only been here for three weeks. Thank you Mom and Dad! I miss you and I love you.
So I spent most of tonight making sure that at least tomorrow’s lessons are ready, which they are. It really sucks not having internet access here in the apartment because Microsoft ClipArt doesn’t even work. It’s kinda hard to make elementary school English lessons without pictures…I’m not exactly doing verb conjugations and subordinate clauses with them. So I’m drawing a lot, which is fine because I like stick figures and dammit I draw a mean dress (my fifth graders are doing colors and clothes).

So yep. Still doing well. I have a lot of pictures to upload onto the laptop and eventually onto Yahoo!.

Two people complimented me on my French today. That always throws me, because I don’t know how to take a compliment to begin with, and it makes me immediately nervous for my next utterance. Another English teacher at the high school (again, don’t know her name) invited me for dinner on Friday night (thanks for the maple syrup, Mom and Dad – it makes a great thank you gift!) and complimented me on my French. At the office supply store, the clerk complimented me as well. It’s just really reassuring to know that today was a good French day, that maybe there will be more of them in the future, and that I really can function (more or less, as long as you use complete uninterrupted sentences, few colloquialisms, and don’t mumble) in normal conversations. What totally surprises me, and this is something I was concerned about before I arrived, is that I can completely understand and communicate with French children. I guess we kinda have the same linguistic capabilities. Yeah, there are times that they don’t really know what the crap they’re trying to say and then expect me to decipher, translate, and respond – I hate that – but for the most part, I’m really doing well with the kiddies. Maybe my French is on the level with a nine year old. That would make sense, considering I’ve studied French for just over ten years now. Interesting. But yeah, more Good French Days have been occurring and that’s a good feeling. (Just for the record, Bad French Days are when you don’t understand a damn word that’s said to you or that you read, everything’s a big mumbly mess, and no one understands you because your vocabulary has been reduced to “I no can talk”. Very disheartening and makes you long for Anglophones, preferably familiar ones.)

It must be said that this is quite possibly the best-paid job with the least amount of work involved. I get nearly full health insurance (with the option of full if I so wish), extensive paid vacations, the full logistical, professional and personal support and cooperation of the other teachers, the school principals and basically anyone else who knows I exist, supplied materials (I am not expected to purchase anything myself – one of the English teachers, Karine, asked if I had bought the construction paper myself, which I had, and she was surprised)…for more than minimum wage working 11.5 hours a week. Um, did I also mention that the closest bakery to us is staffed by the cutest and hyper-friendly little baker lady? I plan on parking my fat ass in their tea room for the majority of Wednesday. Yippee.

I could go on forever. France friggin rocks. Except my friends and family aren’t here. But I think Mom and Dad would like one of these houses down the road…it’s for sale…and the real estate agencies sell to the English a lot…

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Today was a very busy day. I still have trouble falling asleep, mostly because I’m lonely at night and miss cuddling Andy. That makes for very fitful nights and very groggy mornings. I bought a bottle of red wine – more on that later! – to perhaps relax myself. Françoise, when I was staying with her, offered me these little “comprimés” (pills) to help relax but I just can’t do that. I’ll do that more cultural way of putting myself to sleep.

Speaking of fitful nights, I had a really unsettling dream. I had read in the NY Times about the systematic rapes in Congo by armed militias and even the state army, meant to destroy the women of the region. Apparently I was visiting the Congo, escorted by a group of armed soldiers who apparently I could trust when I decided that I wanted to be by myself? Yeah, I spent some time in a tree, not knowing if or when I could come down because I knew that if I did, I’d be raped. Not a good dream.

So I finally woke up and made my way to the liberry, called the CDI (Centre de Documents et Information), to check email. Of which I have none from friends or family. :-( I know that I haven’t emailed anything but still :-( Rosa. Then I went to the France Telecom office and waited for Ben to show up so we could ask about internet possibilities. Apparently we need to (1) open a telephone line for €55, and then for €39,90/month we can get internet. So we’re going back tomorrow morning after his morning class and make sure that this internet connection can support two wireless connections to our different computers (he has a Mac and Toshiba is not) and when this can be installed. We’re both pretty much dying from disconnection. Unfortunately, the optional telephone line doesn’t include Mexico, so it’s pretty much useless for us to include that seeing as we both have Skype and don’t need it. Rocío has used Skype so if she needs to she can use our computers. Probably mine.

Then after lunch at the cantine with the English teachers (Blandine, Karine who dyed her hair black and Karine who is very pregnant), I went to School Two to meet with Marie-Pierre to discuss my schedule and the fact that her students have a 30 minute period on Mondays which just will not do. She introduced me to the other teachers – Catherine, Sylvie (totally not spelling that right) and Christophe. They also showed me MY classroom – I can do as I please in it!!! WOW how friggin cool is that?? I have my own CLASSROOM. Granted, it’s totally pre-WWII and the chalkboard isn’t magnetized (still don’t know the word for magnet) and the walls are a very strong salmon, but WOW I have my own classroom! I’m so impressed. The principal also said she’d look into the code and available copies for the photocopier, and ask the Town Hall for another teacher’s manual for the textbook series for me (no charge). WOW. And I thought this would be my difficult school! I have three classes there: two fifth grade and one fourth grade. They’re enthusiastic, that’s sure, but they’re also really talkative. I can already tell that S* is going to be trouble. I still have a difficulty calling on all students in the class. Also, two of the three teachers whose classes I’m taking stayed in the room the entire time. How sweet is that. The kids did well with the classroom commands, which is not at all part of their textbook series (I must follow it, apparently) but because I don’t have the book myself and because I find the classroom directives helpful (act, look, listen, speak, point, raise your hand), we did that. I’m so stoked. Especially because the fifth graders don’t have class on Friday – they’re going to Ile d’Oléron, which is off the coast of La Rochelle. LUCKIES. I haven’t been there. Oh, I was also supposed to have a class today at School Three but they were also on a field trip. I forget where. I wasn’t invited. Anyways.

So yeah, I’m totally doing well. On my way out of School Two, I got a message from Ben saying that Blandine offered to take us grocery shopping today. WOULD I? Of course! I also finally set up my voicemail on my cell so now you’ll hear a bilingual message from yours truly! Wait for the English – it is a French phone, after all. So I BOOKED it back to the high school. The trip from School Two and School One (they’re within sight of each other) takes about thirty minutes to begin with, and since I left School Two at 4:30 and Blandine was coming to collect us at 5:00, I arrived totally soaked in sweat. I think I’m also developing a sore throat from walking in cold dry air and talking sooo much.

Speaking French also strains my voice as my physiology has been trained to an American English voice. So we went to LeClerc (think WalMart with adjoining WalMart Garden, WalMart Home Depot, and WalMart Hunting Clothes stores). I bought water as it’s really cheap and practical and a bunch of stuff for my trousse (pencil case) like whiteout, markers, paper clips, and a ton of colored paper. I did forget the regular white paper. Oh well. On the way home, Blandine suggested we go on a mushroom hike on Sunday. So on Sunday, the three of us are going to take the train from Ussel to Meymac (the next teeny tiny town over) where Blandine will collect us at the station, bring us to her house for lunch, and then we go on a mushroom hunt! Hopefully we’ll be able to find some cèpes, a kind of mushroom common in this area to make some seriously good omelettes. Yummy! That’s my goal, at least.

Ben also suggested that this weekend, either Friday or Saturday night, we meet up with this dude he met via and stayed with in Egletons (nearest town with a high school, where Ben will be stationed after the February vacations) for drinks in Ussel. Sounds like a plan.

After shopping, we went to dinner at the cantine. Because it’s dinner, there aren’t as many people in the faculty dining room, but we did meet Karine (yeah it’s a common name), a marketing teacher who had some incredibly impressive and fascinating comments regarding language education in France, the contrasting phenomenon of globalization and isolation, and regional wines and beers. She is from a city called Cahors which I mentioned I’d like to visit for the upcoming vacations, and she said she’d give me her contact info so we could meet up (or more!). She lives in the internat (high school dormitories) two nights a week, so we’ll have to be together more often. Her English is impeccable, by the way.

Tomorrow, Ben and I are going to France Telecom to “ranger” (it means kind of like clean up, put together, arrange, etc) our communication embargo. I have to do some serious lesson planning and material production / material finding. Also, I REALLY need to take some friggin pictures. Of people, like Ben and Rocío, Blandine and the other English teachers, Françoise, maybe Karine if I can find her, the documentalistes (liberrians). Of places, like our apartment, the high school campus, the crazy flying saucer nursery school, the adorable houses and the gorgeous rose gardens they all have, the rolling hills, the boring downtown (one church, eighty-four butcher shops, one laundromat, three kebab stands…you get the idea). Oh and I should maybe clean something. My room is clean, except my desk which has become a dumping ground for EVERY single piece of paper I have. Ridiculous.

I miss my parents and Peter and Nicholas – some of my students’ names are Pierre and Nicolas, the French equivalents, and I always tell them so – and Andy. I REALLY hope this France Telecom biznass works out because that would be just too super. We’ll see.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Monday, October 8, 2007

Today was my first day of teaching. I have three classes on Mondays in two different levels at two different schools. Imagine the permutations of how that could work. I spent the morning in the high school liberry making sure my materials and plans were solid, and basically freaking out. I could have gone into town to do some more shopping but I’d rather save my money for the upcoming France Telecom Orange odyssey that Ben and I are going on tomorrow.

So I made my way to my School One which was the only school listed on my arrêté de nomination (letter from the federal French government telling you where you are posted). This school is the farthest away from where I live at the high school, and I also took probably the longest way to get there. Luckily, the town is small enough that if you go up any hill for too long, you’ll end up outside of Ussel. So I got there and found one of the teachers I recognized but didn’t remember her name (Ben has a neat book called “Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong” that explains why the French don’t tell their names immediately in a conversation; long periods of time can pass between “meeting” someone and discovering their name). The teacher led me to Jean-François, a younger man, I’d guess around 30, who teaches at the school and because he is younger, is in the process of becoming “habilité,” or capable of teaching elementary EFL (English as a Foreign Language), a requirement being put into effect as of recent date. He and I were going to take the CM1/4th grade class together, as it was two classes put together and had 36 students altogether. That was ridiculous in its own right, but we tried really hard to control them. It really was just zookeeping with that many students, I mean really. But it was really neat to meet him and see what he expected of these particular students. One student in this class is actually Canadian-born, but already at nine years old his English has a very light accent. So he’s not a native speaker. J-F and I plan to divide the class into two groups, following the same sequence of topics for each of the lessons so they’re on track. I think that’s fantastic. He also had me come back to go over that. That went well. But anyways, for this group of 4th graders, all we did was What is your name? What is your American name? My name is… My American name is… And somehow that took 45 minutes. I fully intend on more content and more productive student activity. La Gare also uses a different book than the other two schools do, a book I don’t have nor does it have anything online that’s of use. I also don’t really like it. It does waaay too much with Halloween, and the British version at that.

After that class, I went to a CE2/3rd grade class. With them, I followed exactly my lesson plan and WOW they really got it. We did Hello, What is your name? My name is…nice to meet you. I laid out the rules for English lessons. And then we did classroom directives: look, listen, act, point, speak, raise your hand (the textbook I have, again British, says put your hand up but that’s not what I say and I’m American, goddammit). They TOTALLY got it and they understood what it means. TPR is amazing for children. I also asked them what countries they might find Anglophones, just to see if what Mom said about kids just naming whatever countries they knew was true, and I found that either this class is really bright or something else. They named England, Australia, and Canada immediately. I still don’t understand why they say South America. Whatever, they were adorable, and I have to remember that their main teacher’s name is Fabienne. She’s little and patient.

After School One, I went to School Two, which you can see from the courtyard of La Gare. Weird. All the schools in this town, by the way, are on the west side of the valley. I took the students from Marie-Pierre's CM1/4th grade class while she kept the rest for – wait for it – German. They were a little crazy, as it was the end of the day and I was left alone with them. They know their numbers from 0-12, colors, Hello, What is your name? My name is, How old are you? I’m (age), What is your favorite color? My favorite color is. We’ll do Where are you from/I am from next week. We also did the classroom directives with much less success than the 3rd graders, but they’re a little older, have slightly stronger personalities, and it was the end of the day. I am going to see her tomorrow before their lessons to reconfigure the schedule because I only had them for 30 minutes and they’re supposed to have two 45 minute lessons a week. But in general I think it was ok. Not as successful but I know that with more firmness and notebook work to do, they’ll behave. And I also think they need a seating chart. But that would require learning their names! And wow they have innnteresting names. The most interesting are the Frenchified versions of Arabic names, or the really modern names like Mylysa (Melissa), Cyprien, etc. I don’t remember them. Especially when in the huge class with J-F they picked American names. Except the Canadian. His name is Z*. He doesn’t get a translation.

All in all, this is a pretty easy job. The curriculum is already laid out by lesson, the activities are suggested, annnd these kids will pretty much do as they’re told. Very different from what I remember or have seen in American elementary schools. Although the teachers move around a lot – J-F teaches four-year-old preschool kids and a few hours of 4th grade. I’ll have to take pictures of the schools – it’s a courtyard surrounded by classrooms. And all of the teachers have been immensely patient and helpful and kind. I’ve met them all last week but that doesn’t mean I’ve remembered any of their names, maybe faces.

I’m pleased with how today turned out. I think School One was the most successful overall. I’m excited for 2 ½ hours of English lessons tomorrow, and then a meeting with Marie-Pierre. Oh and for the prospect of fixing our communication embargo here at the homestead. I’m going to KILL Rodolphe if he did something to the settings on my computer that makes it so I can’t connect to anything other than this non-network here at school.

Also, Ben is hysterical. He’s very pessimistic about the food served at the cantine (high school cafeteria), but as he said, “I always eat it, I’m just not entirely positive about what it is.” Examples: the salami-looking salad thingy “Watch, it’s horse meat or something” and the “potage”, a kind of soup “It’s not very good, but at least it’s not egg yolk, which is what I thought it was.” It was very yellow.
Rocío is good company. It’s like NAFTA here. A little English between me and Ben, a lot of French among the three of us, and some random Spanish between me and Rocío. Ben and I have an American alliance and Rocío and I have a girl alliance. We discussed shaving the other day. I shaved my armpits for the first time in over two weeks. It was getting ridiculous. My legs, on the other hand, are incredible. I can’t wait to see how long it gets.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Saturday, October 6, 2007
So this past week has been very full. On Monday and Tuesday, I was at orientations (called stages) with all the other assistants in this region. I met a bunch of people I had met online, and that was comforting. It’s nice to see familiar faces. I saw Daena who is from Toronto – basically a neighbor! – who was not quite understanding how to get housing without a bank account. I explained what her options were and now she is housed. It’s really surprising how little some people know. I also met a friend of hers named Ceri (pronounced Kerry) who is from Wales and is here with her 2 year old son Caio (sounds like Kyle). What guts she has. She’s cute. One of the best people I’ve met so far is Courtney, an Ohio State grad from DC. Super sweet and just really friendly. I think we may have some things in common. We hugged when we had to go our separate ways on Tuesday afternoon – her bus to Tulle and my train to Ussel. We’re doing the texto thing, of which I have 1,257. I have just under four hours of talk time.
On Wednesday I hunted down the IT dude to make my computer work on the school network, which so far has blown donkey balls. Messaging programs and are blocked, and whatever he did has apparently made my computer incompatible with Francoise’s connection at home. I am pissed. However, Francoise believed there was in fact a telephone jack (called a prise téléphonique) in the living room, and I believe I have found it. So this morning despite a mild cold, I hiked out to France Telecom, the formerly state-owned and probably still partially state-owned telecommunications company to inquire and possible purchase an internet connection. Oh wait. They’re CLOSED on Saturday. And Monday. France, are you friggin kidding me?? Whatever. I don’t have my scheduled Tuesday morning lesson because the kids are going on a field trip somewhere so GUESS where I’ll be? Yep. Rar.
Last night, Francoise offered me her internet connection to talk to Mom and Dad and Andy. However, since my laptop didn’t work on her network, she let me use her laptop AND download Skype, which worked BEAUTIFULLY. It really meant a lot to be able to see Mom and Dad and Andy, so I left with a huge smile on my face. Francoise is seriously like my mom here. She takes care of me so much. I wish I could do something for her, but she doesn’t eat dinner so I can’t take her out for dinner (yeah I don’t get it either, she’s trying to lose weight from her 130 lb frame) and she goes home on weekends so I don’t know if I could invite her for coffee or something. I guess the best thing would be postcards like I did to the Ponterios and Madame Lambert in La Rochelle. They appreciated those.
Other fun Frenchie things I’ve done recently included purchasing the French equivalent of life/accident insurance, called résponsabilité civile and mandatory for all persons living in France under circumstances, such as my own but I don’t think for exchange students. I purchased the most comprehensive plan because Murphy’s Law – if I didn’t, I’d get run over by a bus or something weird like that. For now until the end of 2007, it costs €57,57. Not bad. After that, they send me a quote or something. I went to the pharmacie across the street this morning before my France Telecom non-errand to get some cold medicine. Unfortunately, and I didn’t realize this before I was very dizzy, it contains pseudoephedrine. But the night-time pill is good because I had suuuch a hard time falling asleep last night. And apparently I was warring with my blankets, because they did not look like that when I fell asleep. I also think my fever broke on my odyssey.
Dad wants pictures and it’s friggin beautiful today but I really don’t feel all that well. And I don’t have internet access (omg I am going to KILL Rodolphe) so I can’t upload them anywhere.
I am sorta waiting for Monsieur Paillous, another accountant at the school, to call/show up. He offered to take me grocery shopping this afternoon but I’m not entirely sure how concrete those plans were. If not, I’ll go out around 5 or so, maybe drag Rocío or Ben with me to help carry crap. Andy suggested I bring my suitcase as a shopping cart. An idea, for sure.
So I took out a book from the school liberry in the hopes that I’d be inspired to educate myself. I also have a week’s worth of lessons to prepare. I could clean the kitchen because it’s my job this week and it always needs cleaning. Or I could do NOTHING like I am now. iTunes and solitaire.
The main thing that bothers me about these English lessons is that it has been made very clear to me that I am to teach these children British English constructions such as “Have you got any pets?” which is completely foreign to me. If they wanted a British assistant, they should have been more specific. That’s not to say that they’re unwelcoming or disappointed – far from it! The other two English teachers at the school I observed at were sooo helpful and friendly and Astrid even gave me her cell and email in case I have questions. I just feel like British English is not why I’m here… I dunno. They gave me a full photocopied teacher’s manual for the Year 1 and Year 2 English text they use, but one of my three schools uses a different title. No matter. Luckily a lot of the stuff I brought with me, like the flashcards and the nursery songs will be very helpful. I’m excited about that for sure. I know for the third graders, we are going to do:
1. Hello!
2. What is your name?
3. My name is ___ (and an activity where they can pick an American name if they wish).
4. Nice to meet you.
5. Goodbye!
For the 4th graders, we will do that in addition to:
6. Where are you from?
7. I am from ___ (and an activity where they can pick an Anglophone city if they wish).
8. review numbers 1-10, maybe more if they know more
9. review colors
For the 5th graders, we will do all of that in addition to maybe:
10. What is his/her name?
11. His/her name is ____/
12. Where is he/she from?
13. He/she is from ____.
Wow, just writing that down makes me feel a ton better.
I have the third graders once a week for 60 minutes and another time for 30 minutes (I think?), and the 4th and 5th graders twice a week for 45 minutes each. The first session of the week is strictly oral – English words aloud and pictures – and the second session of the week is written – English words aloud, written and pictures. It’s very structured and I’m excited. It should be fun. Now to create a logical flow of engaging activities to do Personal ID for 45 minutes straight…eesh.
I miss my family. I miss my bros. I miss Andy.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Tuesday October 2, 2007

So I’m back in Ussel after a jaunt all around the region. On Monday morning, I went to Limoges for the orientation meeting for all the foreign language assistants in this region. There are 64 assistants altogether, teaching English, Spanish, and German. The two people who directed the meeting were from like the BOCES of the region (I’m trying to find equivalents), and their absolute FIRST question to us was “Who still doesn’t have housing?” That just goes to show that they are concerned for our well-being. At the end of every year, all the foreign language assistants have a survey to fill out detailing their experience and apparently this region has the highest satisfaction rate. It is obvious. I have met so many people, some not even remotely related to this program, and the first things out of everyone’s mouth is “How are you? Are you doing ok? Is there anything I can do for you? Do you have any questions?” Everyone is genuinely interested in making this a positive situation for everyone – the assistants, the real teachers, and the students. I really feel welcomed here.

So anyways, at the orientation (which is called a stage), I met a bunch of the people I met via the internet – Daena from Toronta, Sonia, Pamela, etc. I also found Sashi, the Indian girl who I stayed with in Brive, and the other assistants who would also be at the Tuesday meeting in Brive – Eleanor from London and Courtney from DC. Very comforting. The stage answered a lot of my questions about the Carte Vitale I needed for my carte de séjour, what the heck is MGEN (if I wanted more than 70% coverage for healthcare, I could buy into this and pay nothing, ever), what the heck is “résponsabilité civile” (kind of like accident insurance, obligatory), and whole bunches of other things. I took notes. We broke for lunch, where Daena and her assistant friend Carey (from Wales! with a baby boy named Caio, which kinda sounds like Kyle) and I went to lunch at Quick, which is the French-born equivalent of McDonalds, but weirder. I <3 Quick.

After lunch, we broke into groups according to language. The primary English assistants got their own group. In this meeting, a primary English teacher named Mireille (it means Miracle) who looked like Helena Bonham Carter on meth showed us different teaching methods. This was immensely helpful because it showed what they expect of us which is very different from how I’d normally do things based on my American training. It was really neat.

After this stage, Eleanor, Sashi and I took the train to Brive. I think Courtney was on the train as well. But anyways, I spent the night at Sashi’s AMAZING AND ADORABLE apartment that somehow lost its water connection. That made for a dirty night but I feel badly for her – I hope it works out. She’s from a southern Indian state, and apparently there are as many individual mutually unintelligible languages in India as there are states, so the only way everyone in the country can communicate effectively is through English, which is taught in schools. Her English is very good. Heavily accented but that’s kinda cute.

On Tuesday, Madame Renson, my contact throughout the summer, collected me and Sashi and together with Courtney and Eleanor went to the district offices for (1) regularizing any more bureaucratic bullshit (omg France this is getting ridiculous…) and (2) more pedagogy! We learned some more methods and the textbook that most of the schools use and may even have (what a thought!) for us to peruse.
We again broke for lunch. Sashi went with Madame Renson to figure out why she has no water, and Eleanor, Courtney and I went to find lunch. It was really nice to speak with people who are in the same situation, and people like Courtney are really neat because we’re both from the northeast. Essentially. She’s really sweet and I really hope to get together with her sometime. In Tulle, because there is not much to do in Ussel… but anyways, it was a nice couple of days. There were some times that I was immensely peeved because I had NO idea what was going on and I was just blindly following people – Eleanor on the way back to the train station in Limoges, Sashi from the station in Brive to her apartment when she was on her cell with her sister, and before we broke for lunch because I didn’t know what was happening after lunch. I really don’t like not being in control of my activities, or at least knowing what’s happening. It bothers me, but I knew I really didn’t have much say in the matter so I just bit my tongue and everything worked out. Mostly.

Tomorrow I have to (1) make photocopies of paperwork (2) go to the post office to mail out very important paperwork (3) talk to the IT dude Rodolphe (4) talk to Françoise, including where to buy some résponsabilité civile, (5) do some massive shopping, (6) eat lunch for real at the cafeteria with people (7) unpack perhaps (8) prepare lessons for next week.

I want a hug. Courtney and I hugged before she left for her bus for Tulle and I left for my train to Ussel, and that was really comforting. We both need something concrete, and she could possibly be someone I’d be friends with normally, not just in these extenuating circumstances where you’re basically friends with those who are most like you.