I am officially a teacher in France. Yesterday I “taught” (using that term quite loosely) five classes with varying degrees of success. All in all, it went better than I expected. I’m glad that I have a better idea of my work, and I’m ever gladder that I actually think I’m going to like it.
Quick lesson on French school system terminology (because I had to learn it too). Elementary (primaire) starts with CP (first), CE1 (second), CE2 (third), CM1 (fourth), and CM2 (fifth). Kindergarten is typically not part of école primaire, but housed with the pre-k aged children in an école maternelle. I teach about two classes of every grade, CP-CM2. 45 minutes twice a week for CE2-CM2 and half an hour twice a week for CP and CE1. So far, I’ve taught mostly the littlest ones and I think they’re going to be difficult, since they can’t read yet and all. Everyone was warning me about the CMs because of discipline problems but as a whole the older kids seem to be more responsive, either because the novelty of having an American there hasn’t worn off, or they’ve had a little bit of English before. Les petits are just hopeless, I see many songs and coloring sheets in their futures. But who knows, once I’ve had all my classes they could be my favorites BECAUSE of all the songs and coloring sheets.
The other teachers are generally nice and easy to work with. I spend my breaks at school in the teacher’s lounge trying to follow their conversations (not too much luck) but I’m learning some new school-specific vocab. They don’t seem to expect too much from my lessons, so that’s good, and they handle some of the discipline, which is even better. I’m totally going to take advantage of the “only speak English in English class” rule, that way the kids never have to know how bad my French is…
ALL French people have the exact same handwriting. Kind of creepy. I’ve watched the teachers have lessons on this and the students get really confused when they see mine, especially my numbers. I meet them halfway by putting the little lines through my sevens but I’m not changing my ones at all, and my twos apparently look like sixes, but I’m there to expose them to other cultures, right? They’ll have to get used to my loopy twos.
Another cultural difference, this one unexpected: Since most Europeans learn British English, (completely understandable due to proximity), my teaching materials are all frustratingly British and have lessons about lorries, Yorkshire puddings, and Guy Fawkes (thankfully I know of a few translators). Obviously, I’m not going to teach any of this “King’s English.” I feel as though I’d be less of an American if I didn’t take advantage of the little influence I have. Manifest Destiny! And what better way to start than giving all the French children American names? (I’m not just on a power trip, we were told that giving children English names is a enriching exercise as well as teaching them English sounds and pronunciations. Example: ever heard a French kid try to say “Heather?” “Th” doesn’t really appear in French.) My name inspirations came from friends and family, as well as pop culture (and by pop culture I mean the Babysitter’s Club, American Girl Dolls, the Gosselin sextuplets and Disney Channel stars). In hindsight, Felicity, Dawn and Stuart might have been too difficult, but Hank, Madison, Aidan, Jennifer, Tracy, Zach and Wendy were big hits. I have no intention of learning their French names but have little hope they can remember their own English names. Next week, we’ll have to play a game or something so Brittney, Sean, Katie, Connor, Kevin and their classmates won’t have identity crises. As for me, French students typically call their teachers “maîtresse” instead of "Madame Whoever." This just translates into “teacher” so that’s what they’re calling me. They shout "Hello Teacher!" when they see me in the halls. It’s cute and makes me feel like Annie Sullivan. However, I couldn’t even teach them “my name is” so I’m certainly not working any miracles. Halloween will take up a whole lesson next week (enter the coloring sheets) and then the week after is our first vacation. Pretty sweet gig, right?
p.s. I haven’t taken any pictures of the school yet, and I’m sure there’s some sort of law that prevents me from sharing pictures of children online so you’ll just have to use your imaginations! If you really need a visual, just substitute the kids from School of Rock (the diversity is actually pretty similar) except make them European and change the uniforms. I plan on teaching them songs, so who knows about their musical ability?