Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.

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!

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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”

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Like two piece in an iPod.

Before I left for England a few weeks ago, I decided to ambitiously quasi-plan the remaining 19 weeks of teaching to which I would have to return in early November.  Those of you counting, that means I only teach for a total of 21 weeks in 7 months. One of the pros of working for the French is, in fact, not working. Anyway, my planning had me scheduled to play a few ‘getting to know you’ games with my secondes (sophomores), since they knew a bit of my past and interests, and I knew nothing of theirs.  In my usual super-planner way, I wrote everything out, divided the class into minutes and then discovered that I can, in fact, think on my feet in class.

One of the teachers at our orientation mentioned she went over an idiomatic expression every week with her students. One of my teachers at school mentioned playing pictionary with idiomatic expressions in class.  I decided to combine the two: every week, I’ll go over a new expression, and in April I will hand them out a list which we’ll use to play a Idiomatic Expression Pictionary game.  Last week’s expression was “like two peas in a pod.”  In an effort to get them to speak English, I had the class devine (guess) what the expression could possibly mean. And, boy, was that entertaining:

  • “Madame, ees eet becos oo are alone becos zere are only two?”
  • “Madame, whot ees a pod? Ees like iPod?”
  • “Madame, ees peas half?”
  • “Madame, ees becos oo are a lot of peepol in a smol place?”
  • And finally, “Madame, ees becos oo are same?”

For your reference, the French equivalent, which my kids were quick to offer up, is “Ils se ressemblent comme deux gouttes d’eau.” They’re like two drops of water.  Oh, and a pod is une cosse.

That was supposed to be a five minute exercise, but 15 minutes later we arrived at the translation, and had to move on to the next jeu: I know someone who…

This is the game where everyone stands in a circle, one person gets in the middle and says something like, “I know someone who is wearing red shoes,” and then everyone wearing red shoes has to change places. Well, it took forever to explain the game, but once it got going, I think they enjoyed the opportunity to horse around a bit.  Getting them to sit back down became the hard part. Having a sentence structure already given to them didn’t seem to help them construct a sentence correctly, though.  After several “I know someone who is shoes/brown hair/sister” statements, I made them repeat and get help until they got the sentence structure right, by which point everyone was itching to switch places and chaos ensued.

But the last game was definitely a favorite with the classes: Who am I? I asked the students to write down one or two names of celebrities on a piece of paper and collected them all. Then a volunteer came up, picked a name at random and covered his or her eyes. I wrote the name on the board so the other students could see, and then erased it.  The volunteer had to ask questions to discover their “identity.”  Once they did, they picked the next victim, er, volunteer.

I was quite impressed with the range of celebrity names I got from the students…everything from Beyoncé to JFK.  Here are  a few names for your entertainment:

  • Characters: Hulk, Spiderman, Superman, Batman, Iron man, James Bond
  • Actors: Brad Pitte (sic), Tom Cruise, Eva Longoria, Georges (sic) Clooney, Orlando Bloom, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Vin Diesel
  • Musicians: Janis Joplin, Beyoncé,  Billie Joe Armstrong
  • Politicians: George W. Bush, JFK
  • Authors: J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer
  • Other: E.T.

One of the more entertaining question-answer sessions came with Billie Joe Armstrong, which resulted in the class not really knowing who it was and offering suggestions like, “The jazz guy,” then, “No, the man on the moon,” followed by, “You’re wrong, it’s the Tour de France winner.”  Turns out, he’s the lead singer from Green Day. Even I didn’t know that, and I like Green Day.

One thing I learned after my first week of teaching in October was to plan more than you think you’ll need, because sometimes an exercise goes faster than planned.  That didn’t really happen this past week, but having extra things to do meant I could skip over bits if I felt the kids were being too rowdy or if it looked like it was boring them.  Three 15 minute activities, or four-five 10 minute activities seem to get the best response.  American doctors might take a look at some of my classes and shout ADD.  I think that kids today are so used to getting immediate response and cycling through multiple sources of entertainment thanks to the internet (for example, going through 40 YouTube videos in an hour, each with a different topic), that as a teacher you have to be on your toes.  Youreally are competing against internet-based instant-information in an entertaining presentation.  If you want to win, you’ve got to be more fun.

This week’s theme is Facebook, and today’s 3PM class is my first set of guinea pigs.  Let’s see how Darth Vader fares.  That last sentence will make more sense later this week, so I guess you’ll just have to come back for the punch line!

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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!

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The search is over!

A while ago I made a post about the trials and tribulations of long-distance apartment-hunting, or as I fondly referred to it, LDAH.  Turns out, all it took was sheer luck.

My aunt and uncle recently (I say recently, but it was probably more than two years ago) moved to a small town in southern India called Coonoor.  Their neighbors include the usual assortment of monkeys, wild buffalo, and tea fields, but also, surprisingly, an art community and a couple of Francophones. And that’s how I finally found accommodation in Paris: I’ll be renting a room from my (beware: long winded explaination ahead) mom’s sister’s husband’s French friend’s mother.  Whew!

My 12m2 room is in the 5e arrondissement, which is wonderful on many accounts.

  1. It’s the oldest part of the city, as it was built by the Romans waaaaaay back in the day but then overhauled over time, which means a quick walk around my quartier has me gazing upon a veritable history of architecture, from the Panthéon (completed in 1789) to the Institue du Monde Arab (a Jean Nouvel building, completed in 1987).
  2. It’s where the learning’s at, pardon my butchering of the English language. The Sorbonne calls the 5e home.  Hopefully, that means there will be all kinds of wide-eyed French undergraduates looking to learn a bit of English on the side, and more than willing to fork over the 15€ per hour I’ve been told I can charge.
  3. It’s on the banks of the Seine itself.  Which means nice long walks along the river front, thoughtfully nibbling on a pain au chocolat as I ponder the mystical effects of Rive Gauche on the intellectual growth of Paris.  Ooh là là.

Nouvels IMA buildings apertures dont work, but theyre still beautiful!

Nouvel's IMA building's apertures don't work, but they're still beautiful!

The room itself is not a shabby deal:

  1. It’s a 12m2 room *with* a private bath! As opposed to a 9m2 room, which is what I would be paying an arm and a leg for otherwise.  Don’t get me wrong, this room I’m renting is going to stretch my budget, but the extra cubic feet of air I’m getting is quite worth it.
  2. One (hyphenated) word: rez-de-chaussée. No flights of stairs up which I must drag my suitcases.  Sweet.
  3. Apparently, it comes with a view to the courtyard.  As my readings in last semester’s Design Theory and Research class taught me, nothing better than a view to nature to perk up the drooping soul.
  4. Did I mention my room comes with a piano? No excuses now, I’ve got to practice with all that free time I’ll have. Hmm…and maybe get some beginner piano students?

The only downside I’m currently forseeing is the length of my commute.  It’s going to be at least an hour from door to door, since the RER E line that I’m supposed to take to Roissy-en-Brie is in Rive Droite, which means I have to take another 20 minute metro ride to connect to the E and a 30 min ride to get to Roissy-en-Brie…but I did an hour commute (Reston to Georgetown) all last summer, and at least this way I can catch up on some more reading.

I’m not sure how much CAF will refund me for this place, but any money I get back will be a blessing, so it’s not something I’m counting on (i.e. I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that I’ll have to find a way to make extra cash to make ends meet).

Still to do on the to-do-before-I-leave-for-France list: figure out how cellphones work in Europe, get more info on Bank of America’s international plans, have my birth certificate translated to French, gather teaching materials, and apply for design jobs in Paris.  At least I won’t be homeless when I get there!

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LDAH: Long distance apartment-hunting.

It’s harder than a long distance relationship, let me tell ya.

The very second I found out I was going to be teaching right outside of Paris I started scouring the internets for places to stay in the city.  Last summer, when I interned in DC, my only regret was not staying closer to the city.  I stayed in Reston with some family friends, which was fantastic, but it meant that I had to be home by a certain time so that I didn’t miss the last bus (yay public transportation!).  So this time, I’m going to do the reverse.  I’m teaching in a small town outside of Paris, and since I’m only teaching 12 hours a week, I figure I’ll want to spend most of my time in the city anyway, so I’m going to try to look for a place in the city that’s within my budget.

So that’s the first problem: budget.  As my maternal unit can attest to (and as she more often than not mentions) I’ve led a rather cushy life.  My parents have paid for pretty much everything so far when it came to my education, which included tuition, supplies, room and board, etc.  I’ve spent my pocket money (comprised of the random cash I’ve earned from freelancing and savings from summer jobs) on travel and fun stuff (i.e. movies, dinners out with friends, etc.).  Now, not only am I out on my own for the first time, I’m out on my own in a foreign country!

Anyone can tell you that a teacher’s salary is nothing to brag about.  I’m not even going to be a full-time teacher: so I guess you could say that my salary is something to shove under the couch cushions and never mention. But I’m going to say it anyway – I’ll barely be making enough to sustain myself.  We get paid €950 per month, which after taxes is €750 a month.  A small studette in Paris (a tiny room 9 m2 with a mini-kitchen, a sink and a shower – not necessarily a WC) costs between €350 and €550 on average.  The nice thing is, because I get paid such a paltry sum, the government wants to help me! If I fill out a whole bunch of paperwork (here’s that word again), I can apply for an aide du logement through CAF, basically, welfare.  But the amount of money I get back is based on the type of place I’m renting (size, furnished/not, etc.), its cost, my income and the income of my roommates, if any.  And the predictor online is a) hard to understand and b) not very accurate.

And then there’s the whole bit about looking for a place that’s a couple thousand miles away.  I may not have apartment-hunted before, but even I know that you shouldn’t sign on for a place if you haven’t seen it.  And odds are, the French landlord won’t rent it out unless they’ve got proof I’m paying: I’ve been told I’ll need a garant, or co-signer, on some places (but not on others…which ones don’t need one I have no idea).

And if that’s not enough, I have to decide what kind of place I want to stay in: a studette? a studio (slightly larger than the former)? an apartment with a couple of roommates? rent a room from a family? a foyer (dorm-room-esque)?  One of my friends who did the whole teach-English-in-France gig a while back said I should make a decision quick, so that I can narrow my search.  I’m thinking my order of preference is as follows:

  1. A room with a family. This will hopefully allow me to better my French.  And I’d be happy to give English lessons to the kids or baby-sit for a night or two in exchange for a reduced rental rate.
  2. An apartment with roommates.  If they’re French roommates, it’d be nice to improve my French.  However, there are a couple of American assistant(e)s that will be living in Paris, so that would work as well.
  3. A room in a foyer.  I hear it’s the cheapest, and gets you the most money back on your aide du logement. And ideally, I won’t be spending much time in my room that isn’t spent on sleeping or cooking a quick meal, because I’ll be out exploring!

I suppose the best I can do from the US is ask around if anyone is renting a room, and work via references (that way I don’t get a super sketch landlord and a shoddy apartment that I’m sharing with Ratatouille and his family – though come to think of it, if the critter wants to cook me a pasta dinner, I wouldn’t protest) – and maybe check out the foyer.  But I’m hesitant to book an apartment without seeing it, or meeting my potential roomates.

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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.

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