Sunday, March 30, 2008

Vacances de Printemps: Les Vacances de -agne: Espagne et Bretagne

As usual, here is the run-down of my upcoming Spring Vacation: The Vacation to the -agne: Spain and Brittany. Brittany is the nose of France. I will be spending one week in Spain and one week in Brittany with my best friend from home, Maggie. Why I decided to put these two destinations together is beyond me, but I'm super duper excited for it. So this is what and where and when of it all:

Saturday, April 5:
Ussel -> Madrid
A train from Ussel to Toulouse where I will catch a flight with easyJet, a discount British airline, to Madrid.

In Madrid, I plan on seeing the Reina Sofia, Thyssen, El Prado, El Parque del Buen Retiro, as many churches as possible, some nifty museums, and all sorts of other amazing Madrileno stuff. I plan on eating tapas, paella, gazpacho, and chocolate y churros. I plan on attenting a flamenco recital and a zarzuela performance.

I will also be making a day trip to El Escorial, a monastery where pretty much the entire Spanish royal family is buried.

I will be staying from April 5 to April 8 at the Albergue Juvenil which has an 87% approval rating on

Tuesday, April 8:
Madrid -> Barcelona

I will be taking either a bus or a train to Barcelona. I haven't decided. I'd like the trip itself to be an adventure and allow me to soak up as much of the Spanish countryside as possible.

In Barcelona, I plan on seeing La Sagrada Familia, the Picasso Museum, Barri Gotic, the Museum of the History of the City, Parc Guell, any of the Olympic sites, the "Spanish Village," the Ethnology Museum, and the beaches. It will probably not be warm enough to frolic but I'm all for a lazy afternoon with a beer and a book on the sand.

I will be staying at Center Ramblas, an HI-affiliated hostel.

Saturday, April 12:
Barcelona -> Paris

I will take another easyJet flight from Barcelona to Paris. I will be staying, hopefully, at the BVJ Louvre for one night. Maggie arrives on Sunday morning. We will do a whirlwind tour of Paris because she won't be exhausted enough from an eight-hour flight and jet-lag and then hopefully stay in BVJ Louvre Sunday night. I say hopefully because despite numerous phone calls and numerous online reservations, I have yet to receive any confirmation. And inexpensive, safe, and clean accomodations in Paris are hard to find.

Monday, April 14:
Paris -> Rennes

We will be basing ourselves in Rennes, the capital of Bretagne (Brittany). We will be staying at the HI Hostel in Rennes for this week. While in Rennes, we will see what a big provincial French city looks like and hopefully visit the Brittany Museum about Breton culture and history. There's also a neat science museum.

From Rennes, we will be making day trips to:
Mont Saint Michel: the monastery on an island whose causeway gets washed away by the tide.
Saint Malo: beautiful walled port city on the northern coast. There's an aquarium to see too!
Quimper: on Finistere (literally the end of the earth), this city has another Breton Culture and History Museum, a cathedral, and beautiful silly French-ness.
Carnac: known for stone monoliths, menhirs, and dolmens. (We will learn the difference among them, I hope.) My goal is to get a hiking tour, but it's hard to get there from anywhere so we'll see.

We will eat crepes, galettess, moules frites, lots of awesome Breton cheese, cider, and tons of amazing French food.

We return to Paris on April 19 in time for Maggie's flight back to New York and in time for my train back to the booming metropolis of Ussel.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

A landmark event.

I began studying French in September 1998. Eighth grade, middle school, Mademoiselle Majewicz. I picked the French name "Rosette" because "Rose" wasn't on the list. Ten years later, I now know that rosette is actually a kind of sausage. That makes for a good dinner conversation.

I have studied French for nearly eleven years now. Intensive vocabulary, grammar, culture. Intensive (and expensive!) trips. Some of the best teachers. Some of the best books.

If proficiency is measured in the subconscious, then I think I may be getting somewhere. I find myself babbling in French even when no one's listening. I speak in English to myself occasionally, but directly translating the French I'm thinking. French is becoming more and more natural, or I'm becoming more and more comfortable.

"We breathe in our first language and swim in our second." ~ Adam Gopnik, Paris to the Moon.

I had my very first dream in French on Thursday night. I surprised myself awake. People (again, never anyone I recognize) and I were speaking French.

Pretty neat, huh?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Oh my goodness, are you ok?? What happened??

So hey! Remember me? Yeah. I almost don't remember myself. This is what happened:

Literally minutes after I made my last post, the magic internet box lost its signal. Now as we all remember, this happens regularly because the magic internet box is special and forgets its medication and has a hard time finding its favorite satellite. Or something. However, the signal didn't come back immediately. No bother, we'll wait it out. No reason to spend 34 cents a minute to get unhelpful "customer service" from France Orange. It'll come back.

On Friday morning, I pushed myself out of bed to go to my three classes at School Three. The minute I said "Bonjour" to Merci Madame (some day I will learn her name), she basically sent me home. Apparently when I called in sick on Thursday, she assumed it was for Friday as well. So none of my teachers had planned on English that Friday. Ohhh...well I'm here? Yes but Rose, you don't have to be here if you don't feel well. I really struggled with this. I felt well enough to power through three hours of English and I felt really bad about just going home. "I don't want to seem lazy..." to which Catherine, who usually spends her class' English lesson giving me quizzical looks from the back of the classroom, responded, "Oh don't worry Rose, no one thinks THAT." I took that as a compliment and went home.

Unfortunately at home there was still no internet. I was frustrated because I couldn't go to school, so I decided to be productive and proactive at least one way. So I called France Orange. They told me, or at least I heard, that they would send a technician on Tuesday evening. Whaaat?! All weekend?? And Rocio went to Paris for the weekend.

I was very sick + alone on a long weekend + no internet + two days and all eight classes of missed lessons = sad sad sad Rose. I just felt miserable and awful and hated myself and France and wanted to go home NOWNOWNOW.

Well, I wasn't entirely alone this weekend. My tutoring student came and we did some grammar and an article. I am so nervous for her - when she goes to her Bac Pro school next year, apparently they're supposed to be grammar and vocabulary experts. AHHH that would freak me out! So we're going to try more grammar practice.

Also, Yolande came to visit. Yolande is the daughter of Marie-Jo, one of the (nicest!) English teachers at the high school. Yolande is doing the equivalent of her bachelor's and master's at the same time. She's also applying to study abroad at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania! She's super sweet. Also she's gorgeous. She was fun to have around.

Monday was a holiday. France takes Easter Monday off, the US sometimes takes Good Friday off. Yay.

Tuesday went all right. I felt better but not 100%. My principals were super cool with me missing Thursday and Friday and don't expect me to make up the missing lessons. I am verrry happy about that. There is no way I was going to do that anyways.

Wednesday was awful. I was supposed to go to my three schools in the morning to correct notebooks but I woke up feeling worse than when I went to bed. The technician who was supposed to "come" today (I had called France Orange again over the weekend and apparently I misheard) was actually a woman who ran some tests on the phone to tell me the SAME DAMN THING I called them to fix!! I was FURIOUS. Rocio and I asked our friend Marie to call France Orange for us because I was in no state to call and Rocio's French isn't good enough. The CSR on the phone asked to speak to me again, during which he spoke awful English. How condescending. I do not consider that helpful or comforting. I see it as "oh you poor foreigner, let me reassure you because I have the power and you've been without internet for a week even though you're paying for it..." which by the way we have to call the billing department some day. In any event, they said they'd send a real live person to the building to actually TOUCH the phone lines on Thursday. And I didn't have to be there.

Add to all of this, I was fre-eaking out. I'm a naturally high-strung person. I was especially nervous because my supervisor, Madame Renson (who was my very first contact in France way back last summer), was coming to observe me. And because I missed last Monday's fourth graders, last Thursday and Friday, and the Monday of this week, my lessons were completely out of whack. Also I didn't feel well physically. I barely slept Wednesday night and sent whimpering text messages to Mom and Andy.

Somehow I made it out of bed on Thursday. School One's fourth graders were ok. I never have their lessons well done. I guess that's the penalty for being the first of four sections. Madame Renson was supposed to be in School One's third grade class, but she never showed up. I was starting to worry if something happened. In any case, the third graders did well and Maggie's students have some adorable letters to read about farm animals.

So then to School Two for the insane fourth graders. And look who's there! Apparently Madame Renson had gotten the schools mixed up. However, during my hour lesson, she was corned by all of the Cycle 3 (third, fourth, and fifth grade) teachers - Madame Cousty (she's the principal and teaches third grade), Christophe and Sylvie the fifth grade teacher, and Marie-Pierre and Catherine the fourth grade teachers. In France, if you are currently in Teacher College, you are automatically habilité - certified to teach English. In years past, l'habilitation was optional. So Madame Cousty is habilitée but the last time the other four had an English class was in high school. But next year, all full-time teachers will be required to teach English. There will be workshops to do essentially "catch-up" habilitation, but ohhh my goodness. The assistant will still be there, but in more of an assisting role and not responsible for the entire class as my colleagues and I currently are. So instead of observing my lessons, Madame Renson spent her time explaining to the teachers this new deal. They are understandably nervous for a number of pedagogical, preparatorial, and cultural reasons. Can you imagine?!

Can I just say how much I love Madame Renson. She is so patient and understanding and helpful. She totally made me feel better about my lessons, even though she didn't see any of them. She, and apparently the rest of my teachers, are thrilled to death that the English assistant actually has training in pedagogy and language education. Even Christophe said "Well, if Rose just stays next year..."

Madame Renson drove me to School Three where she was going to observe Luc's fourth grade class which overlaps my fourth grade class. However, the teachers there were even less thrilled about the new English project so Madame Renson got to fight with them as well. I only work with Virginie at School Three, and she was (rightly so) pissed off about this. My fourth graders were awful that day. I literally picked F* up and put him outside the classroom. I feel for that kid, really. He does not have the skills necessary to be in a mainstream classroom. Also M* is amazingly obnoxious. However, my third graders did AWESOME with the centers activities!!! They LOVED them, and I think they actually learned something! I'm going to make up some more for them because C*, K*, and F* are cruising through them. I'm psyched about it too, because usually F* is annoying. Because the centers activities are individual, I got a chance to really see how students work. I'm convinced V* has something wrong. I can't tell if he has anything in his head.

To make Thursday even better, I got not ONE but TWO!!! packages!!! One from Momma - penpal letters, my windsuit, and she sent me Easter!! A chocolate bunny and cutout cookies and jelly beans!! Thank you Mom! AND I got a package from the Powells - three bags of roasted edamame! I'm totally taking those with me on vacation. Awesome snacky food. Thank you!!!

Today was all right. Sylvie's fifth graders are obnoxious. I'm making up a seating chart because they are just...oh my goodness. They also need a different discipline plan than the house - sticker - coin deal I do with five other classes. Catherine's fourth graders need teacher-centered activities so I didn't give them the card game I made up. Christophe's fifth graders are, as usual, brilliant and totally understood the card game I made up for them. AH!! Also Christophe invited me to School Two's regular pre-vacation faculty lunch. I wonder if I couldn't bring something to share...

After school, I got clean bedsheets from Joceline the laundry lady at the high school, ate lunch with Marie (yummy! the lunch, not her), typed up a grammar worksheet for my tutoring student, did laundry, bought pants I'm not convinced I like yet (the pants I brought are biting the dust), and bought fixings to make dinner for Rocio and her friend Max who came to visit tout d'un coup this weekend. I found PARMESEAN CHEESE! Granted in a 100g plastic baggie but oh my goodness! So I'm making spaghetti and meatballs.

I feel MUCH better. Not necessarily about school because the penpal letters are showing how poorly I planned it but how good of a sport Mom and her colleagues are being with me and because there is NO way I'm getting evaluations done before next week. Not necessarily physically because I have an awful cough and a voice that scared my students - I'm not kidding and I haven't exercised or done yoga regularly since last Tuesday. Not necessarily emotionally because I have THREE WHOLE MONTHS left until I can come home.

But I feel better because I have the support of my principals and teachers and Madame Renson, because Madame Renson and Madame Cousty and Monsieur Modeste are going to write letters of recommendation for my credential file, because my room is clean, because I'm feeling a little better, because I know that I can leave before June 30th, because it's only three more months and two weeks of it is vacation in Spain and with Magsters.


That's what happened. Glad to be back. Hopefully the magic internet box keeps calm.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I'm home sick from school today.

I have a sore throat.

I walked 1.5 hours in the dry cold yesterday.

I had to go to the train station.

I had a meeting in Tulle.

So now I have a sore throat, a fever, body aches, and a headache.

That's the backward explanation. I'm not even getting reimbursed for the transportation costs.

I'm feeling pretty sucky today. Thursdays are my busiest days which means five classes are missing English. It's not so bad in the long run, but I feel horrible about it. It's especially bad because two of these classes already missed Monday's lesson due to a field trip to the movies. (What?) If I was in the States, I could suck it up and just go to school and lie low. But the biggest problem here is that I walk to school. And today I have three schools to go to. And it's cold and dry out. I don't feel well enough to do all that.

So I called all my schools and it's ok. I told them all, "We can discuss making up the missed hours when I get back," but no one really seemed to care. Which would be fabulous because let's face it. It's only English. If the kids miss a lesson, it's not a big deal.

On the bright side, I made more than a dozen centers activities for my third graders. I am so psyched! Hopefully it'll work. We'll see. And maybe today on my impromptu day off, I can make some more centers activities for my fourth and fifth graders. I have an idea for a Clue-like game for the fifth graders...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Things at home I'd like to experience:

It's early still to be thinking about going home. As Andy pointed out, I still have three full months left in the land of expansive social programs, mediocre chocolate, amazing pastries, beautiful cheeses, and state-subsidized rail.

Here is an inexhaustive list of things I want to see, eat, and do when I get back to the USA.

Mom's homemade pizza, Mom's homemade chicken wings, Mom's homemade tomato sauce, eggplant and zucchini parmesean, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made with Smucker's peanut butter and Dad's homemade strawberry jam, Dad's homemade chili, a real cookout of Hoffman hot dogs, hamburgers, and Italian sausage, s'mores, Carousel Mall, Erie Boulevard with Andy, Taco Bell, Onondaga Lake Park, Green Lakes, Jamesville Beach, real American television, driving, Andy's pork chops with egg noodles, understanding ambient conversation, Pops and Grandma's house in Oswego, Wegmans, doing some real reading, State Fair, true independence, Triscuits with extra sharp New York state cheddar and pepperoni, the blue Doritos, Kool-Aid, Cheerios...

It's not just the things. A lot of this has been sent to me in care packages. And I love it. But there's also the experience. So much of these "things" have strong emotional relations. Funny how all of this I remember with sunny days and bright smiles and happy times. I miss home a lot.

Friday, March 14, 2008

I go for mine, I got to shine, now throw your hands up in the sky high.

Yay! Today was a good day. I had a hard time getting out of bed. I guess this is a good thing because I am sleeping better - I thank the yoga - but it's a bad thing because I need to get UP and get MOVING!

So I got to School Two for three back-to-back classes. (Ok, with fifteen minute breaks in between.) I got there at 8:00, and by 8:10 I had pumped out a quick dialogue for my awesome fifth graders to read. And they did! I had one of the M4 girls and J* "present" it. They did a good job reading it cold. We did some comprehension questions, and then they had the rest of the class period to create their own dialogue. These kids are such good workers. I left today thinking I'm a good teacher. I was really impressed at how well it worked.

Lunch with Rocio and Marie was nice. Sometimes I think Rocio is too familiar and that interferes with her comprehension of the conversations. But then again I've also become ultra-pragmatic.

I'm also tagging along the high school field trip in two weeks to the Musée du Président. I am SO excited! I've wanted to see this ever since I learned that former President Jacques Chirac is from Corrèze and that he put his museum here! So now I get to go for FREE. I just bring a bag lunch. I am SO excited! I don't even care that it'll be in the middle of crazy marking period wrap-up. Woohoo!!

In other travel news, God bless the SNCF. Not only can I reserve and purchase my train tickets online, but I can choose to have them delivered to my house for FREE within four days. All of the tickets Maggie and I need for our whirlwind tour of Bretagne have been delivered! I have the youth reduction card and Maggie doesn't, obviously. Can I just say: this card is a god-send. Sign that you've lived in Europe: you dread your 25th birthday because it marks the end of pretty much all price reductions.

I went to the post office to mail out Mom's penpal letters (finally, I know) and buy some pre-stamped international envelopes. Then I went to Leader Price, my hands-down least favorite grocery store ever for applesauce, strawberry candies, and quite possibly the worst chocolate I've ever had. French chocolate is not all that good, and the French promote it more than they should. Super-cheap grocery store chocolate is awful. I have 400g to eat. I think I'll manage. And then I bought a pain, which is different than a baguette in terms of ingredients, shape and size. Basically a pain is bigger and more nutritious.

Tomorrow I will go to marché to see if there's anything else I can waste my money on, see if Juliette (Ben's supposed friend...wonder what happened there...) is busking with her concertina (miniature accordion), and perhaps get a fun pastry. Then some serious lesson planning. Then tutoring. Then more serious lesson planning. Only three more weeks, and the last day is shot because of vacation. I'm not making my kids do anything "serious" on the day before vacation because my head's not in school either. So we do something fun and cultural. But only three weeks! I have to do centers and évaluations orales and penpal letters and Saint Patrick's Day! Did you know that Ireland is an Anglophone country? We should probably talk about Saint Patrick then.

I REALLY miss friends and family. But Mom was right. These next weeks will FLY. I have to talk to Françoise about housing and if not her then Madame le Proviseur and if not her then Monsieur Martinet at the Circonscription de l'Inspection Académique and if not him then Madame Renson. I am unconcerned. No one who knows me will let me be homeless. I have to ask Madame Renson about June 30. I have to get an appointment to close my bank account. I have to confirm that the Rectorat will really pay us when they're supposed to so my paycheck doesn't end up in limbo. And THEN I have to get a real ticket home. Because June 10 is not correct. Thanks Continental. And then I have to book a hotel and a train in Paris. AHHHH all this in less than eight weeks?!

But yes I really miss my family and my friends.

France is nice but I can't live here with the back of my mind always thinking of home.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

This is a really long month.

So. Hokay.

Everything for my April break is reserved. This is a major task, and necessarily time-consuming but fund-consuming. Oh my goodness! But I'm super duper excited. Spain!! And Bretagne!! With Maggie!!! Even better. Oh I'm so so so looking forward to this vacation!

But I must concentrate on my job. Ooh boy. A few conversations with Maggie inspired a multi-lesson idea: centers! How awesome would that work. I hope to work it into the day that my conseillère pédagogique comes to visit. She's coming two Thursdays from today. I'm not sure how I feel about this. Thursdays are my longest days - 8:30 to 4:30, the whole school day - and have some of my most challenging classes (School Two's fourth grade B, School Three's third graders). But I really want her to come. I want her feedback. I can make some changes in the weeks to come. I know there are things I don't like but I just don't feel like I have the skills to change it. It's so hard! Teaching is not instinctive to me, but I like it enough to work on it.

I will also be going to Tulle for a meeting with the Corrèze assistantes primaires (all four of us are girls). I'll be looking forward to seeing Sashi. Eleanor and Courtney will be disdainful of the whole situation, I'm sure. And understandably so. This is a real teaching job, and little children are devils. Even Luc at School Three said so! It's hard enough with a teaching degree, let alone no formal training whatsoever. I feel badly for them. But I'm looking forward to seeing the girls. Hopefully we can find something fun for lunch. Or I'll just bring a sammich like last time.

I am LOVING my yoga podcasts. I feel so much better, and I would dare say that a week into it I'm seeing some changes in my body. Not like I'm losing weight but I just feel more...centered. Calm. I didn't scream at my School Three third graders today. I stayed calm and they did too. It is SO true: the younger or more immature the students are, the more sensitive they are to your mood.

Only three more classes tomorrow!! I think I'm going to have my fifth graders create a dialogue about the school vocab we've been working on. And when we present them, their peers can help evaluate their accuracy and content. Yes! I have awesome fifth graders. I love them so much. Is it because they're older? No...not really, because I would also adopt three of my third graders from School Three.

Rocio is awesome, fyi. She went to centre ville last night and came back with two candy bars for me!!! She's trying really hard to lose some weight, but the weather has been torturing her with cold, damp, and rain. I don't really care and am powering through my kilo jar of Nutella. (Signs you've lived in Europe: Nutella is it's own food group and you can have two servings a day.) I just want to be happy. And chocolate makes me happy. So does yogurt!

March is really long. I am so looking forward to April. That will be a long vacation, and I will be very happy to explore and be "busy" on my own time. The month of May is really weird. There are a lot of days off, special instructional days, and other randomicities. However I only find out if I ask and like the week before. Yay for France.

[Homesickness is awful.]

Monday, March 10, 2008

So what did YOU do this weekend?

Saturday was my work day. My tutoring student canceled (I'm only disappointed because that means 15E less for me), so I had a long day to plan out lessons and activities. Theoretically I could have cleaned my room, but apparently I can't be bothered to clean that pigsty. Ewie. But I did come up with some ideas for a stations lesson for my ridiculous third graders.

On Saturday evening, Rocio's friend Carina came over. Carina is an English teacher in Mexico who is currently a Spanish assistant in Brive. The idea was to go see Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis which is a nationwide blockbuster release. However, we live in a two-screen theatre town and this movie is being shown a total of maybe five times. So we get to the theatre and the line is out the door and in the parking lot. They closed the door basically in our faces! Man! The only other movie playing that night was Sweeney Todd, and none of us were interested in seeing that. So we got a beer at the "Mexican" pub across the street which was showing a rugby game and had American license plates covering the wall. Anyone have a New York one to donate?? Then we went back home where Rocio made dinner, we had beer and tortilla chips, and finished the pear ice cream.

Sunday, I had an invitation to go downhill skiing with Alexia, my second grade teacher colleague at School One, and her son A*, my third grade student at School One. Alexia has never been skiing in her life - she's more of a cross-country girl - and A* is eight. So we were ultra-beginners. So we get to Mont Dore and it is a MOUNTAIN. Oh my goodness. After lunch, we bought a ski pass and rented skis. This entire trip cost about 40E, by the way. Very inexpensive. I kid you not, the MINUTE we get on the slopes, A* falls down and breaks into uncontrollable tears. Oh I felt so bad. This was his idea and he was so upset that it wasn't working the way he wanted. So Alexia and he spent the time on the level part getting used to skis. I took the bench-on-a-clothesline thingy to the top with the sole intention of just making it down. Once. Well...I went about two hundred meters down, and mostly on my butt and face. I was close to the parking lot at this point so I said "Screw it!" I couldn't get up anymore and I couldn't figure out how to go slow enough down the "hill" (it was maybe 30 degrees) without panicking and falling to my butt. So I took my skis off. I was laughing the whole time. I was just amazed at my lack of physical coordination and ability to move the way I needed to. My left butt cheek really hurts, and I'm sure there will be a great bruise there soon. Also my right calf. Bizarre. An awesome trip. A* eventually enjoyed himself too and was smiling.

As my dad pointed out in his email following a Skype call to Mom, there's a reason our family didn't shell out $1000 a person to go down a hill. He had similar experiences. Cross-country skiing is so much more exhilarating and rewarding. Alexia said maybe next time we'll do that.

So yeah. I tried downhill skiing and now I don't want to do it again.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Vacances de Printemps, Semaine 1

AKA Spring Vacation, Week 1

I have another two week vacation coming up in April. I know what you're thinking - already?! Didn't I just get back from the Vacation of Decadence? Well yes, but remember I work in France and the French take their vacation time seriously. They will go on strike if you try to mess with their vacation time, working hours, and retirement.

My vacation officially begins Saturday, April 5. On Saturday, I am taking a train from Ussel to Toulouse. In Toulouse, I am catching a plane to Madrid!! I have reserved a bed in one of the highest-ranked hostels in the world. I will be there for four nights to explore Madrid, tapas, Camper shoes, El Prado, La Reina Sofia, Thyssen-Bornemisza, El Parque de Buen Retiro, dozens of churches of various importances, El Palacio Real, the National Archaeological Museum, and plates and plates of Spanish food including chocolate y churros, Rioja wine, paella, gazpacho, and other deliciousness. I also plan two day trips, hopefully, to El Escorial (a monastery) and Toledo (because I am a traveler).

After Madrid, I will take either a bus or train to Barcelona where I have reserved a bed at a highly recommended hostel for three nights. I plan on seeing La Sagrada Familia, La Rambla, maybe a beach or two, and delicious Catalan food. I alos plan on taking a day trip to Zaragoza to see the cathedral, Roman ruins, Aljaferia, and random museums. Also for more food.

After Barcelona, I will take a plane to Paris and meet up with Maggie!! That next week is not yet planned as I'm not quite sure how we're going to swing six nights. But I am super duper excited. Other than lesson planning, vacation planning is pretty much the only real activity I do.

Judgment calls.

A class-by-class appraisal of the cutest and most trying children on the planet:

1. School One's fourth graders are all right. I love the girls, and the boys are really polarized between the awesome ones and the two idiots, or three depending on how W* is feeling that day.
2. School One's third graders are just a big class. Here are twenty-three eight year olds. Teach them English. Oh and make it communicative and fun. Oh and they can barely write French, let alone decipher written English.
3. Marie-Pierre and I agree: her class of fourth graders at School Two have really strong personalities and really weak personalities. They've made it into a Students versus Teacher thing. They hate me no matter what and are rude and disrespectful. They pass notes, they get out of their seats without permission (a big deal in my schools apparently), make fun of me and my French, talk despite multiple punishments. Eeesh. We get so little accomplished.
4. Catherine's class of fourth graders at School Two are so well-behaved, minus the two sets of little boys with the same names who just piss everyone off. And the Roma girl who has fully accepted her role as the school pariah. Catherine also has been giving me fewer mildly disapproving looks from the back.
5. Sylvie's fifth graders at School Two only behave when she's in the classroom. There's a group of students who couldn't care less, a group of students who are all about English, and third group of the most lost little souls ever. I swear, they all have permanent puppy dog faces. In general, they're okay but they're not so much fun.
6. Christophe's fifth graders at School Two are my favorites. Hands down. I gave them a conversation activity today and would you believe it, but I heard ONLY ENGLISH for a full ten minutes among them. They are amazing. So smart, they work quickly, they pay attention, they make an effort, they try. Ah I'm so adopting the M4 girls (four girls in this class have names that start with M and they're all best friends. One of them actually takes German at the same time but I didn't know that this was her FIRST year of English because she's one of the best students). I love Christophe and his group of wunderkinds.
7. School Three's fourth graders are so cliquey. F* does not belong in English. He cannot function in a regular school environment. He cannot follow instructions. He has no filter. The rest of them do fairly well, and I like when Z* decides to participate.
8. I hate hate hate School Three's third graders. If I could, I'd take C*, O*, and K* and leave the other seven. They are so below the level of intellectual maturity required to learn English. This class really makes me question the wiseness of second languages in elementary classes.

The point of all this is that I'm in a rut, pedagogically speaking. I cannot expect the same lesson to work for all students or for all classes. School Three's third graders need either super-quiet busy seatwork or forty-five minutes of Simon Says and Head Shoulders Knees and Toes. Which would probably kill me but anything for the students, right? School Two's difficult fourth graders need more structure and responsibility, I think...whereas their classmates in the other section of fourth graders do just fine with teacher-centered activities.

I'm discovering the same problems I had in student teaching. I'm so worried about "losing" control in the classroom that all the activities and teaching methods I use are teacher-centered. Not only is this exhausting on the part of the teacher, but it also relieves the student of any personal responsibility for learning the material. The best activities I've had - Guess Who, Telephone Conjugations - were student-centered. They take more to plan and a lot more confidence in my own abilities to effectively introduce the material and in my students to properly follow the instructions.

The difficulties I'm seeing in my lessons are not a result of me not following the textbook. If anything, I believe my students are learning authentic and richer English than what I see in the textbooks I've been told to use. I do use some ideas from the books, and on a few occasions I've used some of the recordings.

I wish I had more training in FLES than just the three-credit course with Profesora Martinez. Even that was FLEX - just exposure, "look how cool Spanish/French is!", not "Here are vocabulary words that you will need to know for your middle school placement exam." Teaching, from what I've seen and heard from family and colleagues, is twenty percent training, ten percent instinct, and seventy percent experience. I am brand-new to this biznass, I just graduated, and I'm not a natural teacher. It's hard but I like it. Really. It helps that I truly do care about every one of my 144 students. I hope they know it.

In this marking period, here are the next topics that we are going to cover:
Third grade (CE2): Aminals! I just don't know what set or where to draw the set animals? Jungle animals? Forest animals? A random mix? From one of the textbooks or a storybook? A storybook from the liberry or my own?
Fourth grade (CM1): Other Foods Part I. This means meats and starches. Basically I picked some out of the food pyramid that have cultural significance on both sides of the pond.
Fifth grade (CM2): Places in school.

As my tutoring student canceled this week's lesson (she's visiting her two-year prep school!!), I will make a real effort to creating some engaging, student-centered, communicative, and productive activities for the lessons to come.

Four more months...

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

It shouldn't be funny...

Hands down, one of my favorite fourth graders today:

Me: What do you have for breakfast?

Really strongly, really fast, and really quickly after my question. Ahahahaha. That made my day.

This class of fourth graders also really likes the game where all of their vocabulary "words" (we do English word = picture) are on the board, they close their eyes and put their heads down, I take one away, and ask the question that matches. They have to figure out which one's missing. I will not understand why they like it so much. It's sooo boring.

I like my yoga podcasts. It puts me in a good mood.

It SNOWED today!! For real snow! It was pretty wet and it's not really accumulating more than a centimeter or so, but still! Snow! Finally, my fifth graders got to practice their weather vocabulary. I do love Christophe's fifth graders.

I wish I could take pictures of them and give you their real names because they have the coolest names ever. I'll remember them just like I do Tracy's and Rhonda's students though, I'm sure. I'll never throw out my class rosters on my computer though. Those names are precious and hold so many memories.

Tomorrow I will write up the written lessons, put money on my high school meal card, put money on my elementary school meal card, plan my tutoring lesson, buy a good quality baguette, talk to Francoise, do some serious reading...

Anyone want to fly over to give me a hug and a kiss? I miss you. Good thing there's snow. Snow always does something for me.

Monday, March 3, 2008


If I've learned anything in my short twenty-three years on the planet, it's that you must be proactive. The squeaky wheel gets the grease; if you want something, ask; if you want something done, do it; no one is going to wait for you. In light of this, here are some things that I've managed to do lately to improve my mood, body, mind, and general well-being. They're small, but it just shows that it doesn't take much to make a big difference, and the commitment can be worth more than the act.

1. Exercise daily. I have a routine of very simple exercises from elementary school phys ed and from the gym at home. It's probably not going to do much in the way of losing weight or toning, but I feel better at least.
2. Podcasts! NPR's Talk of the Nation, TF1's 20H (French private news station), and YogAmazing (currently downloading Episode 115: yoga for snowboarders and skiers...).
3. Downloading some super upbeat music from home. Andy sent me our new favorite CDs and I've downloaded a bunch of songs that I've heard here. Having fun happy music to listen to on my way to and from school puts me in a good mood.
4. Drinking lots of water.
5. Shaving, pumice stoning my feet, and lotioning daily. This is a big deal when I have to hold the shower head and kneel in the bathtub.
6. Breakfast every day with hot chocolate (milk!) and whole wheat toast.
7. Make a conscious decision to let the little things about sharing my living space slide. And it's all little things.
8. Read twenty pages a night of French.

School wasn't so good today but I'm not letting it bother me as much as it would have say, a year ago today. I'm not letting it completely roll off my shoulders, but I'm not dwelling on it and make me miserable. It's partly due to poor planning and anticipation, and partly the students' lack of attention. Tomorrow will be better because I say so.

[Homesickness comes in really sharp pangs now, like attacks. It's very unpleasant.]