Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.

What do Eminem and I have in common?

Um, well…we’re back. And, I suppose, that at times I can be a bit shady, and that once upon a time, I was slim.

These last few weeks have been incredibly crazy. Between having the Brit over for Christmas, heading up for some gallivanting in London, and then having more friends than I have fingers bustling about for a week or so after, I barely had time to finish my scholarship applications, much less blog! But…all that is now a safe distance away, and after a cozy Saturday curled up in bed with a few movies as the rain tapped on my (still-paper-snowflake-covered) window, I was ready to hit the town.  And so I did, in a manner of speaking.

Jim Haynes is the type of person with whom you feel immediately comfortable. And it’s not just the twinkle in his eye and his rosy cheeks that lend him a Santa Clause-y air: the evening he offers is a veritable gift for those able to attend. An apron wrapped around his torso, seated on a wooden stool and notebook in hand, he shook our hands with smile peeking out from below his mustache.

A bit of background info: Aussie called me with some info on an underground dining adventure, one of those “best kept secret” deals, dinner chez Jim. Every Sunday for the last 30 years, Jim has hosted thousands of strangers, people unknown to him, and to the rest of his guests. Over glasses of wine, bottles of beer and a delicious three-course meal prepared by Jim and his friends, strangers become acquaintances, and in some cases, much more.

Yesterday evening, I had the opportunity to meet (among others): an architect from Sydney, an interior designer from Charlotte, NC, a communications consultant from Mexico, a geo-physicist from Italy, and an immunology student from China. Dinner consisted of a potato salad appetizer, followed by boeuf bourguignon, green beans and mashed potatoes, and an apple crumble with vanilla ice cream for dessert. If you wanted seconds, they were up for grabs – in both the food and the alcohol department.  Plenty of interesting conversation and delicious food, all for a small donation (small by Parisian standards, that is).

The evening was a great way to break out of my hermit-ing (understandable, after three weeks of continuous travel), and I can’t wait to go back!

Advertisements

Filed under: All things French, Around the world, , , , , , , , , , ,

Music and Mayhem

As I’ve said before, I have four hours of sophomore-level courses every week.  But because of the way the timetables work in French high schools, I don’t see the same kids every week.  On Mondays and Tuesdays I have two groups that I see every other week (one half of the class on week A, the other half on week B), and on Tuesdays and Thursdays I have two groups that I see regularly (same kids, every week). So it gets a bit complicated in lesson planning, to remember which kids did which lesson. Luckily for me, they talk to each other about my class.  So when I did a rather successful session on American popular music for Week A, the students in Week B insisted we go over the same material. What did I do that was worth of extra-curricular discussion? Well, let me tell you. (If Malcolm Gladwell can use leading questions, so can I, n’est-ce pas?)

The French have this love of competition, specifically, intellectual competition.  They have several TV shows, some similar to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune, and some that go way beyond what we expect Americans to know, including games where you solve word and number puzzles in seconds to advance to the next round. So I thought I’d play a music game – no, not musical chairs.  This one’s called “Guess the Decade!” and the students have to do just what the title suggests.

I began the class with an overview – we listened to samples of music from the 50s to the 2000s and studied their lyrics.  Then, I divided the class into two teams, usually boys versus girls.  That gets the competitive spirit going. I played 30 second samples of random music, and they had 30 seconds to decide, as a team, what decade they thought the song belonged to, and write their answer on a piece of paper; the winning team (there could be two, of both guessed correctly) received 10 points.  For an extra 5 points-a-piece, they could guess the song’s title and artist.  I had a mix of songs and artists I thought they’d know (“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “Y.M.C.A”) and was sometimes pleasantly surprised when they recognized the artists I thought they’d struggle with (Frank Sinatra – only one kid knew who that was, but good for him!). Class got a bit rowdy, of course, and I even had a teacher come tell us to settle down – but, for once, they were rowdy in English!

For the last week of school, I stuck to the Christmas theme and did an exercise to get them working on multiple tenses. They had a few minutes to write before they presented their answers to these two questions: 1) What was the best present you’ve ever received? and 2) If you could get anything for Christmas, what would you like to get? For the first, some kids couldn’t remember any present they particularly liked (I had a hard time believing that, and heckled them with questions until they said something like “Money” or “My PSP”.)  For the second, I had a range of responses, but most kids seemed to want either a new computer or a phone.  Some kids wanted money to travel, one girl wanted a house in every country and another wanted to have some actor’s babies. Good luck with that one, Santa.

As usual, Chuck Norris won the (unstated) Make-Amrita-Laugh game. His ideal present? “I want Chuck Norris to be my bodyguard.” Then, when a student teased him, saying “You looooove Chuck Norris!”, he responded with “No. Chuck Norris loves me.”  We have a winner!

Filed under: All things French, , , , , , , , , ,

Chuck Norris doesn’t fear Death. Death fears Chuck Norris.

Continuing in the tradition of class cancellations, six of my twelve hours of teaching this week never took place, either because teachers needed the students to take tests, or because the teachers were sick.  This means I spent a lot of time sitting at a computer typing away at my graduate application essays: 3 out of 5 essays are nearing completion, and my deadline is a month away! I’ve never been so far ahead of schedule.

None of my seconde classes were canceled, however.  That meant I could still go ahead with my carefully planned out class schedule.  This week we went over another idiomatic expression (“thick as thieves,” or “copains comme cochons“).  But the pièce de résistance was my social-networking experiment: the Facebook Classroom.

I had been getting several of those chain emails with attachments like “What if God had Twitter?” and “Isaac Newton’s Facebook Page,” which is where this all started. But we’d been told to stay away from religious themes in class, and I wasn’t sure how many of my kids were nerdy enough to be entertained by Newton’s hypothetical profile (unlike my friends, who I’m sure would be ROTFL.  Please note that the last word in that sentence was written with only sarcastic intentions). So I found something I was sure they’d all find funny:

Luke, Vader wants to add you as a son on "Family Connections." Accept? Ignore?

Some of the classes thought it was funny.  That’s better than nothing.  One class, when asked if they thought it was a funny joke, said, “No, because it’s childish.” I retorted, “Too bad! ‘Cuz we’re doing one just like it!” And in the end, it was the doing that brought them to the dark side…

So here’s what I asked them to do:

  • Pick a well-known Anglophone figure: celebrity / politician / actor / musician / fictional character / etc.
  • Pretend to be the character and fill out a Facebook profile.
  • Make friends: requests are made in person.  If you accept, leave your new friend a message on the wall. If you decline, let the asker know why.
  • Share your profile with the class.

The writing, they didn’t like so much. But making fun of the guy that didn’t understand the “pretending to be the character” bit of the instructions, and wound up playing Eva Longoria because “she’s so sexy” – with another dude playing Tony Parker? That, they liked.  I’m now going to share with you the fruits of this labor: excerpts from my students’ Facebook profiles that had me laughing out loud while riding home on the metro.  Also, note: all errors are my students’ doing…I actually do know how to speak English.

Numero uno: Chuck Norris. Sex? Male God. Relationship Status? He don’t need it. Hometown? The world is mine.

"Chuck Norris don't need music, he create the music. You can't hit Chuck Norris. He is the champion of Karaté. Chuck Norris is Walker Texas Ranger and he hit peoples with his feet. No one can write on the wall of Chuck Norris, or he will kill you. The friends of Chuck Norris are who he want. Chuck Norris decide your life."

This charming student, when asked to describe Chuck Norris and share his profile responded with: “If I said who Chuck Norris is, Chuck Norris will kill you.” If this had been a competition, this kid wins.

The rest:

"I am a Rich Man and a Popular Person, I have a wife but I forgot her name. I live in America, everywhere because I'm RICH."

David Beckham. Relationship Status? "Married with Victoria, it's complicated because David go playin Milan AC in Italian, in January."

"My name is Wentworth Miller and I have 34 years old. I'm just registered in Facebook and I want to be your friend :D. I'm the celebrate characters in the serie Prison Break: Michael Scofield. I hope to find love in Facebook or other because I'm alone :("

"Queen Elizabeth II. She likes Jazz and classical music. Movies / TV? Inspecteur Derrick and Barnaby. Activities: she sleeps."

As for Eva Longoria and Tony Parker? Well, Tony wrote on Eva’s wall. “I love you Babe. XD”

Filed under: All things French, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunny ol’ England, Part I

I have a theory.  God made England sunny for a September weekend so that when I visited London, I’d find it quite pleasant and want to come back, thus not disappointing the Brit and causing him to spend oodles of his own cash with mandated trips down to Paris because I’m terrified of coming up to face yet another rainstorm. As it turned out, it was the Brit’s trip down to Paris that resulted in a downpour or two, and my last trip back up (just a week ago) was pleasant with only a few drops of rain and gusty winds – yes, even in Scotland!

In case you don’t believe me, I thought I’d give you some evidence that England can, in fact, be sunny.  Consider this our first flashback.  All the way back to September, when I left the US (for quasi-good) on a jet plane headed to Gatwick Airport.

I arrived in London at dawn, and after a confusing half-hour stumbling around the airport looking for a coffee shop in the wrong terminal (that’s what happens when you arrive in a country without a cellphone and no calling card), I managed to meet up with the Brit and he shuttled me off to his country estate. Ok, not estate, but rather a nice little house in a charming town called Horsham.  After a recuperative nap and some unpacking, we took a walk around town and through the park, where we ran into the Brit’s paternal unit. A brief chat later, we snagged lunch (a real English sandwich!) and did some more wandering before heading back home to meet the maternal unit and one half of the sibling set.  The meet-the-parents routine went rather well, I think, though I felt bad for bringing a bottle of wine when his mum doesn’t drink (but I’m making amends with my next trip up).

The next three days were devoted to London and trying not to miss our trains. We did a lot of walking, I think I counted 7 miles covered in one day, and saw a lot of the mandated tourist destinations.  I’ve got a couple of images from my own camera, before I discovered the sensor had been splattered with dust, and then a couple from the Brit’s camera that will serve as guides to this exciting narrative.  And just for kicks, I thought we’d go sight by sight, rather than follow a timely chronicle, since I can’t remember what we did first, but I certainly remember what we did.  So here’s the London Top Ten, in no particular order.

#1: The London Eye. You can’t miss it if you go to London, and it’s a great way to orient yourself in the city – kind of what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. Structurally I found it quite beautiful, and the view from the top was well worth the price and the wait.  The British certainly like to queue up.  Although I couldn’t help but think of that Doctor Who episode every time I saw this landmark…also, there was some random 4D movie experience, basically an excuse to get misted and have wind blown in our face, with some 3D effects that were better than Disney’s, while watching cool shots of the Eye and some little girl.

eye01
It doesn’t look so big, until you realize each one of those little pill-like cabins contains 15-20 people.
eye02
It’s like a huge, turning, bicycle wheel. But it moves incredibly slowly, so it didn’t seem to activate my fear of hights / motion sickness.
eye03
Better than seeing the Eye from the ground? Seeing sunset over London from the Eye! Who wants to guess the time?
The view from the top.
The view from the top.

#2: Big Ben. If you have to see the Eye, then you can’t help but hear Big Ben. I found its architecture interesting, though I prefer the proportions and detailing of monuments in Paris. When we were at the top of the London Eye, in true British style, a gent asked me for the time. And as a truly ditsy American, I searched my purse for a watch, Big Ben ticking away behind me, while the rest of the cabin laughed.

bigben01
The infamous Big Ben was actually one of the first things we saw. We saw it again and again the next few days, but for some reason I only recall hearing it ring once or twice…
bigben02

Big Ben at night, doesn't he look handsome?

#3: Buckingham Palace. So, we didn’t get to see the changing of the guard, and we didn’t go inside the Palace or the Gardens, but I did get to see a guard and he walked around a bit, so it was almost the same.  It was weird thinking that this essentially huge McMansion belongs to a little old lady that happens to be very rich and the (decorative) head of a small island/important country.  And that Prince Charles grew up there, funny ears and all.

Buckpal

That's the guard! And okay, so he moved a total of 10 feet...but he did change positions!

#4: Piccadilly Circus. The Brit describes this plaza as London’s version of the Big Apple’s Times Square.  I will say, it was cleaner than Times Square.  It was also smaller than Times Square, like waaaaaay smaller. I guess everything is bigger in America. But the tiny size and it’s great aspirations only made it quaintly adorable. Wait a minute, that sounds like an apt way to describe England itself…

piccad

It has a lot of moving images, which are interestingly hard to capture on still digital "film."

#5 Trafalgar Square, National Gallery. The Brit and I made it a tradition to approach relevant bits of public sculpture from the rear, and then forget to see them from the front.  We made an exception for Trafalgar Square, only because walking around the sculpture was key to our getting on our way. The National Gallery itself was beautiful, architecturally, and I was especially fond of its bathrooms – one of my professors always said, you can tell how well a space is designed by how much thought is given to the bathrooms, as they tend to be an afterthought.  The art in the gallery was your usual smattering of stuff, though I particularly enjoyed the Turners on display.

trafsq

From the rear at sunset, as we saw it. Take note of the sliver of moon on the right.

That’s it on London for now.  Look for Part II shortly!

Filed under: Around the world, , , , , , , , ,

Courses, of course.

My second week of teaching has come to an end and I’ve finally met the majority of my students.  I have quite a mix, in terms of age, ethnic background and English speaking level, but for the most part they are all quite nice and not intentionally disruptive of class.

A quick breakdown of my schedule, as it now stands: I work Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.  On Mondays and Tuesdays I’m at the school from 8h00 to 17h00, though I don’t have classes the whole time (today, for example, I have only 4 hours of actual teaching time…); on Thursdays, I have courses back-to-back from 10h00 – 14h00, which I prefer in some ways (less down-time, but it means I get home early).

I’m teaching a range of age groups: I have 3 groups of secondes (sophomores), 1 group of premières (juniors) and 6 groups of terminales (seniors).  There’s further distinction between the groups of premières et terminales, because from what I understand about the French secondary education system, students have to select a quasi-major during their Junior year.  These range from literature/arts to business to sciences, and there are even some students in BTS, a post-high school program similar to an associates degree, but the courses are taken at the high school.  Determining your program is supposedly the student’s choice, but in the vein of selecting AP or IB in the US, in that you pick based on your academic level, not necessarily on your desired profession…I have a group of ES students (business, econ, etc.) who are quite brilliant, and only surpassed by a group of Euro students (the IB-esque kids, who even take their history course in English).

Yet, even in my non-advanced level courses, there are chatty students that want desperately to exercise their English.  This afternoon, for example, one of my seconde groups was given the option to attend a review in their French course instead of my English section, but one girl opted to stay in the English section.  She and I had a wonderful time: we reviewed Halloween vocabulary, talked about Harry Potter books, watched a clip from The Nightmare Before Christmas (which she had already seen because of her Canadian cousins), played pictionary and talked about Shakespearean plays. Keep in mind, she’s a sophomore…and we only resorted to translating a word from French to English once (and even then we got there pretty much through circumlocution).

Then again, there are students in my groups that couldn’t care less about English, and continue to hold conversations with their peers in French, despite my requesting “In English, please!” every 5 minutes.  I even told the kids I don’t care if you talk to your classmates, just do it in English.  That didn’t really work.  Playing pictionary and bribing them with American candy, however, did work for a while.  But for the most part, students only resort to French to explain my comments/instructions to those that are completely clueless.

Interestingly, we were instructed in our training session not to let on that we spoke French (to prevent the complete degeneration of the English class into a discourse in French).  I’m having a hard time with that!  I know what they’re saying, and want to answer, but have to prompt them to re-ask their questions in English…I’ve told all my classes that I don’t speak French, and actually, one of the courses is thoroughly convinced I have no idea what they’re saying.  This is the same class that went to French instead of English today, but when the French teacher told them I was invited to sit in on their course (which I couldn’t, because the girl wanted to study English – yay and nay), they told her it would be useless, since I don’t know a lick of French. In any case, I’m learning to master the Gallic shrug and a puzzled expression when my students try to ask me for traductions.

As for my private students, I’ve got two lined up for sure, one hour a week a-piece.  I might have a third and possibly a fourth, but that will be determined in the next two weeks.  I’ve also applied to teach English to 5-8 year-olds on Saturday mornings, so things are looking up!

And for fun, here’s the video clip I’ve been showing to my students today…it’s almost Halloween!

Filed under: All things French, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bitches and beaches, ohms and homes.

Now, for something a bit more lighthearted.

Today was my first day at the Lycée Charles le Chauve in Roissy-en-Brie.  I met, for the first time, the instructor with whom I have been corresponding via email all summer. He introduced me to several of the English faculty, and they were all very inviting, très gentils. Many of them are quite young, and the dress code seems fairly casual – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a school where teachers wore baggy jeans and sweaters but the students wore leggings and leather vests, as is à la mode these days.  I suppose it’s because we’re living on a teacher’s salary…and they’re living on Mom and Dad’s.

I sat in on two courses to observe student-teacher interaction and the students’ level of English. My first course was a group of secondes (sophomores), who were a bit shy only because they weren’t sure about their English.  Once we got talking about places they wanted to visit and the current image of Barack Obama, there were several raised hands in class.  It’s a good thing I voted Democrat, as I think I might have been boo’ed out the room had I not!  After an interesting experience with lunch in the cantine (um, I think those were potatoes?), I sat in on a group of premières (juniors), who were better in terms of English-level, but more hesitant to ask questions.  They went around introducing themselves…and as the professor laughingly mentioned, we gathered that they were all between 15 and 17, lived in one of three neighboring towns, and liked sports.

Before coming to France I perused several ex-pat blogs and the online writings of assistants who had completed this program before. One of the more entertaining bits of these shared experiences is the funny way French students of English tend to pronounce our language. They have a habit, for example, of adding “h” where there isn’t one, and dropping “h” where there is. One of the girls today asked about ‘omes in America.

By far, the most funny (for us Anglophones, certainly, but perhaps not for the teacher in the course) is the difficulty students face in pronouncing the long “i” sound, as in “pieces” or, as it happened in class today, “beaches.” We were talking about reasons the kids liked their favorite country and one boy spoke up, “Well, it has good music and girls.” Another nodded in agreement, “Yes, ze girls and ze bitches.” That led to an entertaining discussion about the difference between “bitches” and “beaches,” where the teacher tactfully avoided stating the explicit meaning of the former word (offering up “female dog” instead) and a brief lesson on prononciation.

A last anecdote, one that shocked me more than the events on the RER this morning, actually. We were discussing detective novels in one of the courses, as the students are reading an excerpt from an Agatha Christie book.  The professor asked, “What’s the one detective story you’ve all read?”

The class answered in chorus, “Ten Little Niggers.”

Now, I use that word only because it’s in the actual title of the book, but let me tell you, to hear it come from the mouths of twenty-some teenagers all at once was quite a shock.  Apparently, it’s the original British title to the Agatha Christie book, And Then There Were None – a book that popularized the rhyme we normally refer to as “10 Little Indians” and a book the kids all read (in French) because their former principal insisted upon it. As an aside, the actual rhyme seems to be titled “10 Little Injuns” in its original form, reworked to the Christie title by Frank Green in 1869, then back to the form we know in the 1940s when the Christie book was published in the United States.

All in a day’s work, I suppose. I should be getting my actual schedule soon – the teacher coordinating it actually asked if I wanted a four-day weekend. I said that would be ideal.

Filed under: All things French, , , , , , , ,

Roissy-en-Brie and gay Par-ee

Mairie de Roissy-en-Brie

Mairie de Roissy-en-Brie

After a long drought of communication (read, since April), my inbox is now filled with emails from the French Embassy and their compatriots on the other side of the pond.  This is a good thing.

I now know that I will be teaching 15-18 year-olds at the Lycée Charles le Chauve in Roissy-en-Brie, a town 30 minutes from Gare du Nord in Paris, from October 1st until April 30th.

I, of course, as an information-searching nut, went online and scoured the internet for any dirt I could gather on Roissy-en-Brie and the lycée, as soon as I received the email.  And here’s what I learnt learned:  Roissy-en-Brie is a lot like Fontainebleau, minus the château. So it’s pretty, and close to Paris, and has outdoorsy things to do like hunt in the woods by following dirt trails and trees marked with street names, and quaint downtown streets with cafés that charge an arm for 3 boules de glace.

The lycée‘s website gave a bit of insight into the titular Charles, but was not as forthcoming with information about the English program.  It seems, however, that they have a fantastic music program, and it might be nice to get back into some piano playing – perhaps I can learn some contemporary American pop pieces to share with the class.

Speaking of the class, I’m slightly terrified of teaching 15-18 year olds. I mean, I’m turning 22 in October, so that makes me what…4 years older than the oldest and 7 years older than the youngest of the bunch? How much did I respect the young-ish teachers when I was in high school? Well, I do recall wondering if they knew what they were doing (*cough* and harboring crushes on the younger male teachers *cough*)…do *I* know what I’m doing?

I’ve tutored kids before, and TA’d 2 university-level courses, even come up with lectures for both and led discussions…I suppose it shouldn’t be too difficult to translate that for a high-school audience, since the students I was working with at uni were 18-20-year-olds. I read (in my pursuit of all things France-and-teaching-related) that it helps to set your foot down at the beginning of class: only English in the classroom, no disrespect, strict grader, etc., etc. Which makes sense – once a push-over, always a push-over.  And that shouldn’t be too difficult for me anyway, as I tend to expect a lot of other people, mostly because I expect a lot of myself.  I think deep down I want to be that tough professor that everyone hates and loves at the same time.  Some of my best professors have really made me work for their approval (hmm, there might be some psychology to this worth exploring), and didn’t Colton say that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery?

Anyway, it seems the easy part is over: I got the gig.  Now I just have to get my visa, book my flight, figure out health insurance, get travelers insurance, find a second job, get a French bank account, fill out more paperwork, get a French cellphone and find some place to stay.  Oh, and breathe.

Filed under: All things French, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,