So yesterday was an adventure. Tuesday, November 14, was the start of the train strike. All of the train station workers - counter clerks, conductors, anyone - was striking against wages, pensions, retirements, and basically the system itself which is slowly trying to privatize. I think. Whatever, in any case, this was the singular worst day my contact, Madame Renson, could have picked for a meeting of the primary English assistants in the Correze. Thank you Madame. So this is how my day went:
My bus from Ussel left at 6:00am. Normally, I'd take the train that leaves at about 7:00am to get to Brive a little after 8:00. However, because of the strike, I had to take a bus (not typical) that stopped at Tulle, a city about mid-way between. Now at Tulle, I had to wait another hour and a half until the bus could take me to Brive, arriving at 9:30am, a good half hour after the meeting started. No biggie, Madame Renson totally understood. In fact, Courtney from DC lives in Tulle and she was going to take the same bus so that would make two of the four of us late. So I'm at the Tulle station frantically, I don't know why frantically but probably because that's how I am, asking every bus that comes by "Are you going to Brive?" All of them tell me no, this is a school bus. So I go to the closed train station to verify for the umpteenth time that my bus really isn't arriving until just before 9:00am and that I have a good hour and a half to do NOTHING. This (French) girl comes up to me and asks, "Are you looking for the bus that goes to Brive?" Well yes! "Well me too, let's go search things out." So we ask a couple other buses, but she's obviously in more of a rush than me but I'm more frantic about it, and she finally says "Ok, this is pointless. My dad will drive us." WHAAAT? Are you serious? I don't even know your name!! Are you sure? I ask. "Oh yeah. We have to get to Brive, don't we?" Well I guess. It's at this point - less than TWO minutes after this girl started talking to me, that I realize that I'm getting a ride from a girl I hardly know in her dad's car to Brive. Um, ok. I finally have to introduce myself. Her name is July (pronounced Julie). Her dad doesn't want gas money. Ok. A half hour later, I'm in Brive. She gave me her cell number in case something happens. Basically I almost hitchhiked. It was amazing. I couldn't thank her or her dad enough. Her dad seemed mostly put out because the strike was messing with his life. That's about the only reason the French don't like their own strikes.
So the meeting went well. It was me, Courtney from DC who works in Tulle, Eleanor from London and Sashi from India (wow) who work in Brive. Madame Renson is the best. She's so kind, she really sympathizes with us, and she genuinely HELPS us. We got some good redirection for our lessons, some ideas on how to give the evaluations for the end of the marking period, shared some materials, and are possibly going to a Christmas market in a tiny little town north of Brive with her! She's the best. She's also going to come observe our classes just for hints and pointers. I'm nervous, as always, but I know it's never to criticize us or to point out our faults, but to improve the lessons and teaching techniques. I love Madame Renson.
So Sashi wasn't feeling well - the cold is really not agreeing with her - so Courtney, Eleanor and I went out to a creperie (restaurant that sells sweet and savory crepes, salads and ice creams) for lunch. It was really great. They're such sweet girls, really. I'm glad to know them at least. Eleanor is a riot and Courtney is so familiar. Anyways, it was fun.
So by the time I got to the train station in Brive to figure out how to get home, it was about 2:30pm. However, the only dude there, mostly directing people to appropriate buses, told me that in fact the bus I needed would leave Brive at 4:00pm. Yay for more waiting. And that it would bring me to Tulle, where I would have to wait for another bus to leave at 6:50pm. OMG MORE waiting. So the bus came and I got to Tulle, where the station was closed. Now there aren't a lot of things to do around train stations in general, and I don't really like cafes or bars because the cigarette smoke really bothers me, so I spent a good 45 minutes outside. Not a good idea. I finally gave in and went to the cafe across the street where I spent 1.10E on a coffee to sit for the other hour I had in Tulle. Finally the bus came and I got to Ussel at 8:00pm. I text messaged July to tell her I got home ok.
What a DAY. I did the impossible - travel in small-town France during a nationwide public transportation strike! I almost hitchhiked! French people are nice!
Today classes went well. The nationwide strike is also hitting the schools, and two of my three schools have told me that next Tuesday, the 20th, the teachers whose students I have won't be there. And if the teachers aren't there, the students aren't there (there is no such thing as a substitute)...so I don't have classes. This sucks, sort of, both for my lesson planning and also because the kids miss English class. However it's kinda cool because I'll get to experience the French school system during a strike, and well, I get to sleep in. I enjoy sleeping immensely.
School One's fourth graders did beautifully today. I think it's the new seating chart their classroom teacher implemented. It's awesome. School One's third graders did well too, which was cool. School Two's fourth graders couldn't wrap their heads around the concept we were doing and I kind of lost it with them...I couldn't understand why they couldn't understand...I hate that. What I really don't like when they don't understand is they completely shut down without trying. I'd understand if they tried at least once and got it totally wrong, but they don't even try. My wait time is SO long with them. It's frustrating. I had lunch with School Two's "Merci Madame" and Sylvie, the mother of the girl I tutor at School Two and we had a good conversation about food quality and frozen foods. I invoked the Mom and Dad's freezer full of homemade strawberry jam and pork products. Ah I miss home. School Three's fourth graders did amazing. Even F*. He said "I decided to do well in English." I think he took his medication, but whatever. He was active, responding appropriately, and making a REAL effort. I was so proud of him. I told him so. Ah if he turns out to be my success story I'll be so happy. School Three's third graders basically made one of their classmates cry. "T*'s crying." What's the matter honey, you have to tell me or I can't make it better. "There's so much noise, everyone's talking and I'm not learning anything." WOW. Guilt trip? Well honey, that's partly my fault because I'm not managing the class very well, but it's also your classmates' fault because they refuse to listen and they make stupid comments. Do you understand what you're supposed to do here? (They were doing a little coloring activity.) "Yes." Ok. You tell me if I can do anything to make you feel better. I also sent S* out of the room because he's disgusting, makes inappropriate comments, and is basically an obnoxious asshole. When I sent him out, he protested sooo much, "No I'll stop, I'll be good, I promise." No, absolutely not. I warned you enough. Go to the principal's office and tell him you're wasting your classmates' time. While the class was working in their notebooks, I went outside because I knew very well that he didn't go to the principal's office, he was standing outside the door. We had a good talk and he behaved for the rest of the class. And I told him so. I feel terrible because there are three students - C*, L*, and T* who are genuinely interested and make a real effort. But there are also students, one of whose brother is the very attentive T* in the twinned fourth grade class, whose minds are anywhere BUT school (it's not just me, I know), and other students who think that this is joking play time. NO, it's school and it's serious business. We're here to learn!
Anyways, today was a good day. I like my roommates a lot. Ben and I are probably going to a Corsican music concert tomorrow night at the church (Rocio declined due to the 10E ticket price), I'm going to the market and this adorable Williams-Sonoma style store on Saturday, and on Sunday Jean-Francois from School One and I are going to get together...hopefully to talk about something other than elementary school English as a foreign language. Ben and Rocio are going to Brive because the Spanish assistants there have found a Salsa night in town and invited any and all assistants or exchange students. And because Rocio likes to experience things from her own language's culture and because Ben doesn't refuse basically anything, they're going. I'm not because it will invariably be in a very smoky bar. Also I don't want to.