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.