Friday, May 30, 2008

L2 teaching methods: a reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How to correctly leave France:

1. Cut all ties to France Orange and hold a seance to irradicate its presence in your life.
Really, this involves sending a return receipt letter to Customer Service asking them to please disconnect your service and stop billing you as of a certain date. Then to ensure that no more automatic withdrawals are incurred on your bank account, put a block on your account. Then once you receive the letter from Customer Service saying that they have indeed received your letter and will cut off your internet (and life) as of April 30, you will need to call France Orange Customer Service three times for them to send you the appropriate instructions on how to give them back the magic internet box. Normally, you could just go to the France Orange store, but they conveniently closed the one in Ussel in April. Now it's a cell phone shop only. Then, armed with the special France Orange magic internet box return by mail ticket, you go to the newspaper shop to buy packing paper, wrap up the magic internet box, and then go to the post office and mail the whole thing off.
Next is lighting some candles and chanting, because oh my goodness France Orange how I loathe thee.

2. Cancel your French life insurance policy.
I took out the biggest policy they had because I'm kind of a klutz and goodness knows I would want the most comprehensive coverage possible. I have no recourse if something goes wrong. This one included body repatriation even. So in order to cancel the "responsabilité civile," as it's called, you again send a return receipt letter to MAIF Customer Service and attach a copy of your soon-to-expire residency card. See? This is why I want to cancel. Soon I will leave your country because I will no longer be legal.

3. Close your bank account.
Nadine, my banker, will be on vacation during my last full business week in Ussel. So she set up an appointment with Isabelle in the next office over to come in on Friday, June 27, to close my account. This will involve them giving me a big wad of Euros and me relinquishing my beloved debit card.

4. Realise that no one wants anything to do with your pay-as-you-go cell phone. Hooray for useless and uninteresting souvenirs.

5. Pray that the Rectorat (district office?) pays you on time.

6. Make travel arrangements.
I have reserved three nights in a very very very nice hotel in Paris: Hotel Saint Louis Marais. It is very nice because I get a shower, a double bed, wifi, buffet breakfast, airport shuttle, satellite TV, 24 hour concierge, and decadence. Also the hostel was booked up.
The SNCF website is undergoing some updates and as such, the train reservation part is down. I will be going first class, as it's less than 40€ to do so. I need mah space.

7. Make lots of lists.

I have less than one month in France!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Rose and Umbrellas

I seem to have bad luck when it comes to unexpected rain, expected rain, and umbrella possession in times of rain. I spent three cold and rainy days in Bordeaux in 2005 being perpetually wet and cold. I got caught in a torrential sleeting rainstorm in Bayeux and ducked into a bookshop to pretend to look at children's books. Walking back to my building from the library in Cortland while wearing white capri pants and a blue tank top, it started to rain heavily. A freak rainstorm in Cortland forced me into the bookstore where I bought an umbrella for $25. I later "lost" the umbrella at Andy's apartment in West Campus; we maintain that one of his idiot roommates or their friends took it. Most recently, Maggie and I braved the Eiffel Tower in the rain without an umbrella.

In short, I have had poor experiences with rain and the appropriate protection against it. I suppose a positive rain experience is hard to come by; after all, it usually ruins all plans and no one's hair looks good after coming in from the rain. I maintain to this day that I absolutely hate rain and would much rather snow.

I had another umbrella crisis back in November. It was raining, I walk everywhere, and I knew that this being France, it will probably rain some more. In France, there are these stores called maroquineries. These shops sell purses, luggage, gloves, cute scarves, sometimes hats, and umbrellas. And since the one in Ussel is across the square from the laundromat, I used my forty minutes of wash to scope out the scene. I told the maroquiniere lady that I'm a simple girl and I don't want something flashy, anything with a print, and that it needs to be sturdy. We tried nearly a dozen out, discussing the merits and downfalls of each. I finally decided on a slate grey one that opened with one button. My jaw dropped when she rang it up: 69€. Oh my goodness!! I had definitely not expected to pay that much for an umbrella! But since she had spent so long with me talking about it and we were at the register, I felt obligated. She is the only luggage store in town, after all...

I didn't open the thing for months. I toyed with the idea of returning it, but was unconvinced of the possibility of that happening in France. (I now know it's ok.) For months, that little blue plastic bag represented all of my poor umbrella purchases.

In fact, I was so ashamed, scared, angry or whatever to use it that I didn't bring it with me on vacation! How silly of me. South France and Paris in February?! Girl, please. It rains in France. What were you thinking? So I bought a reasonable umbrella for 10€. I was pleased with it because it was black with pastel spots. However, it was very flimsy. I was disappointed.

This winter was very dry. Very little rain, virtually no snow. Once March rolled around though - here comes the rain! I finally gave in and broke out the 69€ umbrella. And what do you know, but it is really worth all sixty-nine inflated Euros? I bring that thing with me everywhere. It has become my trusty umbrella, and I am sincerely looking forward to bringing it back to New York where it will stay safe and unused in my car's glove compartment.

I am very happy to finally have made a significant purchase that has turned out for the best. I very much so like my umbrella.

I still absolutely hate hate hate the rain.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A pretty cool weekend!

Friday was a good lay low day. Andy helped me make a recording for my fifth graders. The quality was really good and it was all comprehensible input, but because the structures weren't EXACTLY what they know or what was on their worksheet, they got really really confused. We muscled through it.

Marie-Pierre asked me if my brothers would be interested in being her 16 year old son's summer penpal; if not them, did I know any American high school-aged boys? Um, sure...I sent a note off to FLTEACH and I'm going to ask Reilly and Audra if their French teachers would be interested in hooking up a student. I suspect that this penpal-ship could become more. It sounds like a personal ad: "Looking for English writing correspondant, possibly more."

On Saturday I did some major shopping to make desserts for Sunday. My goal: strawberry shortcake. I had a well-recommended recipe from, my best website. If not, I still had a box of brownie mix from Mom and Dad's Halloween care package. Here are the fruits of Saturday:
Shortcake: Absolute bust. I need to remember that baked goods are only as good as the butter you use, and I bought the cheap butter from Leader Price. Also, I am unconvinced of the effectiveness of French baking powder, and I was lacking cream of tartar.
Angel food cake, to replace the shortcake: Surprisingly perfect texture, but due to a lack of lemon and vanilla extract, tasted like an egg white omelette. Also my recipe said to let it bake for 45 minutes. Having completely forgotten that the angel food cake mixes are idiot-proof and super quick, I believed it and the tops burned.
Brownies: DELICIOUS. Every time! Ask Glass Tower; I would bake four sheets of brownies every Tuesday for Glass Tower to sell as a fundraiser. Everyone loved them and asked for them. 25 cents was a steal for one of Rose the AA's brownies!
Orange Jello Poke Cake: Using a prepared French yellow cake mix I had intended to make for either School One or School Three, I prepared the last of the Jello from the Halloween care package. It tasted like creamsicle and was delicious.

So that's what I did Saturday. Bake. Françoise needs a new hand mixer. Hers is pre-war, and possibly pre-Wars of Religion (which were in the 17th century).

Why on earth did I bake so much?? I was invited to Hélène's for Sunday lunch and had offered to bring dessert. It was a delightful afternoon! This was the menu:
Apéritif: cocktail weiners and Banyul, a prune-flavored sweet wine from southern France-almost-Spain.
Entrée: melon
Plat: Pommes de terres farcies (stuffed potatoes) which really meant a casserole of super super thin sliced potatoes, pork sausage, and tomatoes.
Salade: salade du marché (market salad) which means delicious green and purple lettuce with homemade Dijon mustard vinaigrette
Cheese: blue d'Auvergne and Cantal
Dessert: the aforementioned brownies (decorated with checkered confectioner's sugar and sliced strawberries) and orange poke cake, and of course coffee.

After lunch, Hélène and her husband Laurent left their son Pierre to study while we three went an hour east to Salers, an ADORABLE town in the département of Cantal (Ussel is in the département of Corrèze). The drive itself was beautiful. Picture all the stereotypical images of the French countryside: flowers on the side of the road (yellows, white Queen Anne's lace, blues and pinks), green trees, cows, ridiculously beautiful towns that don't seem to have acknowledged the arrival of the 18th century, was beautiful. We arrived in Salers which was surprisingly alive for a Sunday in the middle of nowhere. There were shops with regional products: tome which is the base cheese from which Cantal is made, ham, cookies, Gentiane which is the ultra-bitter liquor Ben bought back in like November, and all sorts of other stuff. Hélène and Laurent bought some liquor and cheese and cookies, a box of which they gave to me, and I bought a postcard. We had tea in a very nice café where a Belgian group was visiting in search of their ancestors. Their conversation was neat to see the dynamics between Europeans. Just really cool. The village of Salers is IN the Massif Central, the chain of mountains in the middle of France, and there is an INCREDIBLE lookout point. The town itself calls itself a Renaissance town and is so beautifully preserved. Absolutely gorgeous. We got home around 7:00pm.

The super awful terrible no good very bad part of this little excursion: IT WAS POURING. And because we're so high up in elevation, the wind was atrocious. We were completely soaked. As soon as I got home I took a hot bath and had tea.

In any case, it was a delightful Sunday. I need to send them flowers or something as a thank you, if only to assure future invitations. Did I mention that Hélène is a school doctor and Laurent is a dentist? Yes. Their house is very French but very very nice. In the guest bedroom there is a sink and a bidet. I have some serious ideas about thank you gifts for them: Syracuse China, a nice painting of Camillus or Syracuse, and anything involving American cuisine.

I also got Françoise a bouquet for Mother's Day, as it is celebrated today in France. It's a beautiful bouquet with yellow roses and yellow daisies. So pretty and she loved it. :)

Next week is going to be busy!!! I have to make some serious moves regarding going home: train ticket, lodging in Paris, closing my MAIF account (essentially life insurance), closing my bank account, applying to new teaching jobs, figuring out what the heck to do about health insurance (France wins on this), and other various wranglings. Oh and did I mention plan and present lessons?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


So two weeks after I emailed my supervisor, Madame Renson, about coming in to observe my lessons and to talk about the fifth grade exams, she calls this morning. To say that she's coming TOMORROW. Argh. I shouldn't be nervous or anxious; it's not like I'd ever prepare anything different. It's just not a lot of notice. I wouldn't even invite someone to come over that early. Eesh.

I don't feel very well today. I feel dehydrated despite countless bottles of water and green tea. I have a headache and I just feel out of sorts. I didn't exercise.

I did, however, buy two pairs of (matching) shoes at the Wednesday morning marché for 10€. Both, together. One pair is brown and the other pair is black. They're the same pair of shoes. They're really cute and have the sturdy European soles I've been missing for the past eight months.

I also mailed out seventeen teaching applications, only two of which are actively looking for a foreign language teacher.

Today is not a good day, but it's not a bad day either. Wednesdays have historically been difficult days for me.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

An awesome weekend!!

I didn't end up going to the Russian Choral concert on Friday night. My excuses were the 10€ ticket, I was tired, I was preparing my tutoring lesson, it was raining, and I wanted to stay online. Sorry to disapoint you Soleil!

SO. Teh internetz has this thing called torrents. Thanks to Shannon for guiding me through. Basically, this is how I've been entertaining myself online, keeping myself from going entirely insane due to boredom, and looking for fun ways to spice up my lessons. I have all of Sex and the City, Oz, and Clone High, which are all super fun tv shows; a couple of movies; and about 10GB of music. Oh my goodness. Françoise's internet connection is only about 3,294 times better than mine was, so the files come in less than 24 hours at the slowest.

Of course, this comes with surprises. Among my discoveries:
"Asereje" by Las Ketchup
"The Hampsterdance Song"
"Peanut Butter Jelly Time"
among others. I have not yet filtered all 10GB of music. Luckily the Toshiba has 231 GB.

On Saturday, I embarked on the grocery trip odd-yssey. What did I buy?
At the "organic" grocery store: dish soap, rice cakes, crème fraiche (kind of like sour cream and fresh cream), pie dough, crème de marron (spread made from sugared boiled chestnuts)
At Leader Price, the super cheap grocery store: kitchen sponges, mayonnaise, white vinegar
At the market: one kilo of potatos, parsley (I think it was free with purchase!), celery, a cucumber, four peaches, a melon, a barquette of strawberries, two onions, a dozen eggs (they still had feathers on them!)
At the cheese shop: raspberry jam
At the convience store: a new travel-size water bottle and toothpaste
At the bakery: half-loaf of whole wheat bread

When I finally got home, dragging all this stuff with me, I got busy in the kitchen! What did I make?
Tarte au morailles: One of my fifth grade students gave me a block of morailles. This is a super strong soft cheese from the north of France (Soleil and Shannon, do you recognize it?). The thing to do with it is make this pie. So I rolled out the pie crust, placed a layer of the super stinky cheese down, and covered it all with the crème fraiche. Fifteen-ish minutes in the oven and voilà, stinky cheese pie. It's pretty good.
Potato salad: peeled and boiled the potatos to a PERFECT texture, boiled and peeled the eggs (way too fresh), chopped the onions and celery, mix. I was unable to find dill.

Saturday was also my last tutoring session with my student. I have to pass a ton of websites to her! I did get paid for our final four sessions, so yay for cash in hand.

On Saturday evening, the city of Ussel hosted a Nuit au Musée, or Night at the Museum. Yes, Ussel has a museum! In fact, it's a collection of historic buildings with historically significant artifacts from the area, open only in the summer. The exhibition started at the Chapelle des Pénitents with a choral recital by the Cantante 19, the regional choir. It was very nice. The Chapelle has displays of painted wooden saint figures, a horse-drawn hearse complete with a stuffed horse, displays of religious life paraphenalia (baptism dresses, wedding pictures, rosaries, random boxes). As with all of these cultural events in town, I was bound to see students. And guess who showed up - Alexia and Antoine! I love them so much. She is so sweet. I think we could actually be friends in like real life too. After the exhibition at the Chapelle, the whole group walked to the museum downtown where we listened to the Lyre Usselloise, the city band play some embarassingly inappropriate songs (the Bugs Bunny theme?!) and a storyteller tell the French version of Hansel and Gretl, called Jeannette and Jeannot. The storyteller was absolutely fantastic. I really enjoyed her. Then we we went to the printing shop that displayed Ussel's printing history, mostly based on music printing. That was pretty cool. The middle school art classes had had a workshop on lithographs and produced a calendar. I'll see if they're not selling it; it looked really cool! So that was a supremely delightful Saturday night!

Wait, why did I make potato salad? Well, Françoise's best friend is Hélène who is the mother of Pierre who is a student at the high school, friends with Daniel, and with whom I have hung out a few times. Hélène invited me to spend Sunday with her. We went to her Equestrian/Tao Chi Center, where a very dynamic lady named Emmanuelle rehabs horses and teaches a type of Chinese meditation called Qi Xong (ah spelling), in addition to chain smoking. (We are in France, after all.) It was pretty cool, even if I am not at all an animal person and horses require a relationship with humans to pretty much function. And guess who else was there? Marie-Claude, the conseillère pédagogique who first greeted me in Brive!! And her crazy daughter Camille. Her husband Olivier showed up too. Basically it was a group riding lesson and meeting for this center's upcoming exhibition. It was pretty cool, honestly. My potato salad was a huge hit, especially when I told them it was a traditional American picnic recipe. It was pretty good, if I do say so myself! Go me. I am not so all about the horses. I'm not scared of them; I just don't know how to communicate with them. I tried leading this one pony around but she just refused to acknowledge me. I am not an animal person, and apparently animals agree. Even Tahini begs to go outside when she's home alone with me.

I just got a phone call from Hélène inviting me to next Sunday's lunch! I'm going to bring dessert. Who wants to see Rose attempt angel food cake for strawberry shortcake? What other options do I have...I do still have two boxes of orange jello and brownie mix, but I was planning on baking for Schools One and Three this week. Hmmm. This will require thought!

I am exhausted from this weekend. I am so looking forward to school this week, too!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

...long long time ago...

Not much to update, honestly.

Still teaching small funny French children about English with wildly varied success and hysterically frustrating failures. Still super anxious about coming home, both positively and negatively.

My weight has seriously started to bother me. The first thing I'm doing when I get home to the States is the annual family vacation to Cape Cod, where we either go to the beach or go to the pond, both activities requiring a bathing suit and a body without nine months' worth of cheese and Nutella.

But oh my goodness, Nutelllllla...

So I'm exercising a lot and watching what I eat. Drinking lots of water and green tea.

There's a Russian choral recital on Friday night. I'd be going alone, if I go at all. Opinions?

Saturday night is the Nuit des Musées, or the Night at the Museum. The Ussel Museum (I know, right) is having a little pre-season celebration with special exhibits and presentations (and apparently a little apéro!) for FREE. This is cool because the museum is only open in July and August, and I'm terribly fascinated by what could possibly be in this po-dunk town's museum. More Ventadour memorabilia? Cows?

On Sunday, I have been invited to Françoise's best friend Hélène's lakehouse. Hélène is the mother of Pierre, a junior at the high school who is super in English and with whom I have hung out in addition to his friend Daniel and Ben. Pierre is better than TV. He's a very funny little boy. Ben had apparently been teaching them American slang, and Pierre tried some out on me once. Ahhh that was funny and in any other situation, incredibly offensive. I'm bringing American potato salad.

Three classes tomorrow, three classes Friday...less than 60 days left. Oh the mixed emotions.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

My life in France is unreal.

The librarian Krystyna is immensely helpful in choosing ability-appropriate and engaging novels for me to read. Zadig by Voltaire was fantastic; Le rouge et le noir by Stendhal was way too thick; I am now in the middle of Claudine à l'école by Willy et Colette which is so far very accessible. I may not be entirely illiterate.

Mass job applications may not prove as fruitful as I would like to believe given the status of my NYS certification: what does "Not ready for review" mean? And why is there no one I can call about this? Why does Albany make this so hard. Sad. A trip to the Credential Office at Cortland is in order this summer.

Today is a national holiday. Victoire 1945. May 8 marks the victory of the Allies over the Axis powers. I knew something was going to go on in Ussel; I did not know I would be an active participant!! I found the "marching" band (oh WG how you have spoiled me) at the Hotel de Ville. Along with pretty much everyone else: Monsieur Modeste, Marie-Pierre, Madame Cousty, Monsieur Barbe, Alexia and Antoine, Anne-Sophie, Catherine, Monique, Christophe and Valérie, Sylvie, Madame Laugier, Fabienne, and about 30 of my students from all three schools. Marie-Pierre waved me over, so I went to say hi. Of course, Monsieur Modeste couldn't just leave it at that: "You're going to walk with us to the Monument aux Morts?" So instead of just watching the parade, I walked in it. Yes. Right in between Anne-Sophie and Alexia, behind my students, and in front of the firefighters. Oh, did I mention the mayor was there? Yes. Madame LeClerc said hello to everyone before the parade started. I shook her hand. I don't even know who the mayor of Camillus is! So we got to the Monument aux Morts, listened to some prepared speeches sent by the Secretary of State, a poem read by some students from School Three, and flowers were laid at the monument. The students sang two songs: one was the anthem of the résistants, and the other was La Marseillaise. Repeat it all at the Monument aux Résistants. Apparently, at Place Voltaire which incidentally is where the middle school, the monuments to the dead and resistants, and the tourism office are, there was a small battle between the Germans and a troop of French soldiers. 42 Frenchmen died. Monsieur Modeste didn't mention which side won. In any case, it was a super cool morning.

There are three weeks at the beginning of May. May 1: Labor Day. May 2: Friday after Labor day but what the heck, let's make it a long weekend. May 8: Victoire 1945. May 11: Pentecost Monday (what?). May 15: national education strike, during which only two of my three teachers are striking. How has this completely thrown my lesson plans for a loop? If anyone recalls, I was the only person at ESM or Spencer who didn't want a snow day. ACK!! So this is fun. Random days off.

Françoise was supposed to go to the family house in Bugeat last night. But her boyfriend Patrick called and said he was coming up! Best not to surprise Françoise like that; she got very flustered. So we went shopping for dinner. Seafood with red wine. Who cares! The minute she got home, she got a phone call from a good friend. So imagine her on the phone and me trying my hardest to not annoy her too much but at the same time get dinner ready with her sign-language instructions. It was fairly successful! And now I have a neat recipe I'd like to try: scallops, mushrooms and baby shrimps in a creamy crab sauce, baked. YUM. The wine totally didn't match but we did not care. Patrick is a tuba player. I picked out the cheeses - a St Nectaire fermier and a Cantal entre deux. I love cheese! Patrick brought the desserts: Paris-Brest and a crème brulée tarte. The entrée was supposed to be grated carrots, but Françoise forgot that she had left the carrots in Bugeat last week! After dinner we went for a walk farther south than I've ever gone before. Busy day + wine + walk = very very sleepy Rose.

An "organic" store opened in Ussel. I don't know why they call it organic; isn't all food based on carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen? In any case, it's all very healthy and environmentally friendly. There's even environmentally friendly house insulation. In 10kg bags. Next to the whole wheat pasta. I like their tea selections. I'll be back, for sure.

I miss home but being able to keep myself busy with school and job searches and going for exploratory walks and maintaining my yoga and exercise routine and reading real books and trying to figure out why Tahini hates me is really good.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A fairly productive weekend!

I went to the market on Saturday, and it was very productive! I got beautiful fresh strawberries that I've been cutting into slices and drizzling with honey. Delicious! I also got a head of lettuce which is more filling than it looks. I got orange juice and a pot of confiture de lait, which is a sweet spread made from cooking sweetened condensed milk until it caramelises. I've been told it's fantastic on apple slices. Yummy! I also got a half a loaf of un pain for Sunday and Monday's breakfast. Bread just tastes so much better in the morning than toast.

I re-planned my tutoring lesson for Saturday evening which went nicely. It's so hard to find grammar exercises that challenge her, that she can understand, and that don't require huge amounts of explanation for me. I have no idea what this tense is called in English: "I have done." Present perfect? Also, in the sentence "I asked my doctor a question," which is the direct object and which is the indirect object? Goodness.

I also FINALLY got my return ticket wrangled. My ticket is a Reward (frequent flier) ticket so there are restrictions on flights. The flight I wanted on Sunday, June 29 has no openings for me. The best Leslie, the super duper awesome international desk representative, found me was the earliest flight available on Tuesday, July 1. Close enough! Here it is:
7:00am Paris -> 8:00amish Geneva
9:15am Geneva -> 12:00 noon Newark
It's like time travel! I have no idea how flying across time zones works. From Newark, I have a number of options:
1. Buy the $260 ticket for the flight to Syracuse.
2. Take the shuttle ($15) to the Port Authority and catch a Greyhound bus ($60) to Syracuse.
3. Take the shuttle ($15) to Penn Station and catch an Amtrak train ($50) to Syracuse.
4. Take a taxi (approx. $3,921) to Syracuse.
5. Have Dad come pick me up.
At least I'm over the water. Once I'm in North America I can figure it out. Also, the least time spent in Newark the better. There is awful food and you have to pay for the wifi. Very unpleasant.

Today I vacuumed my room and the living room in addition to the linoleum in the hallway and kitchen, did some laundry, and am considering a walk. I'm also going to exercise twice a day. My exercise routine is only thirty minutes.

I kinda feel like a nap. Or a big piece of chocolate something.

Françoise's cat, Tahini, went out last night and I have not seen her since. She was starting fights with the other random cats on the high school grounds. I'm slightly worried. Françoise insists "She has to live her life" but if something happens to Tahini while I'm home alone, I will feel so guilty. Tahini also whines at me a lot.

Ok, let me get something intelligent accomplished.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Oh hai.

SO. Rocio left on Tuesday evening. I've never seen her so stressed. She hadn't slept since about Friday night. We finally cleaned the apartment, and it's tons cleaner than when we found it. We did our part and left little things for the next assistants like our stack of magazines, lesson plan ideas and materials, our galette des rois crown, and some random other stuff. The last assistants in the apartment were Argentinian and had left tons of posters of Argentina and South America, so Rocio and I made sure to leave a few posters and a Mexican and American flag. It was sad to see her leave.

Yesterday, Ben came to Ussel to get his bike repaired, meet me for a drink, and meet his two best students Daniel and Pierre for a kebab (I joined them). We talked in English. When he left after dinner, it really hit me: I'm all alone now. My girl friend Rocio is gone, and my compatriot Ben is really gone. I may never see them again. That makes me sad. It was a short time together but due to our circumstances, it was really strong. You get to know someone really well when you're the only people in town in your 20s. Pretty much.

I have moved into Françoise's apartment. We went grocery shopping which was perfect timing. She has an OVEN!!! I bought cake mix - it's all batter already so all I have to do is pour it into a pan and put it in the oven. I'm so excited!! She has a Senseo coffee maker and a real (French-sized) fridge. She has a washer. I'm in a real French house! (Apartment. But you know.) This is such an awesome situation. The downsides, however, are that I don't really have a workspace to do school work, and that her internet connection is even screwier than our magic internet box is. The only computer that can connect to the internet is her laptop, and only with the cable. The wifi is bwoke, her magic internet box is being selfish and not letting the Toshiba hook up. However, she has given me free use of her laptop. I had installed Skype in like November, I installed AIM, and her webcam is even better than mine! However the keyboard is French. My touch-typing skills are still fantastic.

My students rocked their evaluations. My fourth graders were especially entertaining during their oral evaluations:
Me: What do you have for breakfast?
More than one student: I have green beans, pasta...and chocolate.
Me: ...Okay then.
I gave them full credit. I mean, it's comprehensible. Just weird. And they know better. My fifth graders also wrote a 100-word note! Eighth graders in New York state have to write a 100-word note based on a prompt for the eighth grade proficiency exam. My French Is at ESM struggled with this; my fifth graders ROCKED it. I am so so so proud of them.

I finally paid for my New York state certifications and fingerprinting. I've written a statement of purpose outlining why I think learning a new language and culture is important and how I teach my students and what I believe about the importance of learning a new language and culture and what I believe about the capabilities of my students. I'm proud of it: it's very positive and structured.

Continental and I are on shaky terms. There are currently no seats available on the date I want to fly home. I will call every few days as Miss Harris suggested. Miss Harris is the lady I talked to at the Continental International Desk.

I'm slowly working through my schoolwork. I have one class completely done: tests graded and marking period report completed. Next week's lessons are all planned, but materials need to be made.

Happy Rose :)