I know, I know. This post is long overdue.
I’ve been busy at a variety of jobs, on top of teaching English at public schools in Saint Ouen (3 schools, 12 classes, 250 students), I also babysitt, tutor and have a variety of online jobs.
The teaching gig is going great. According to the program I’m supposed to be an Assistant Teacher (key word “assistant”), but in actuality I’m really the teacher for the full seance, 45 minutes. I get guidance in a few classes, but for the most part I design the lesson plans myself. I’ve done the Hokey Pokey, Head Shoulders Knees and Toes and sang Wish You a Merry Christmas, Old McDonald more times than I can count. I also created a Bingo with colors board (the kids call it the “lotto,” because Bingo doesn’t really exist here, but its the same basic rules as the lotto).
I printed out 7 large and colorful pictures of animals, and I use them to teach the question/answer “What’s this?” “It’s a cow.” I taught the verb “to have,” i.e. “I have a pig. I don’t have a pig.” showing and hiding the picture of the pig. Now I’m starting to teach the verb “to be,” I ask one student to mimic an animal, and his/her comrades ask “Are you a bird?” paired with the response “Yes, I am a bird.” or “No, I am not a bird.”
I’ve gotten ideas from fellow teaching assistants, teachers at the school, and sometimes even the kids themselves. See, any language is difficult to perfect. English is difficult in her vocabulary, we’ve adapted around cultures. We’ve taken words from all different languages, and even created some on our own. French, on the otherhand, is an homage to the past. New words are fought, deemed as a degradation to this lovely language.
So, the façon in which French is taught is totally different. Orthography is taught with rigor. Its not just the spelling of the language, (which, oy, is it complicated) but also handwriting skills. A beautiful language is worthy of beautiful script.
It can all be seen as a mere annoyance, and unwillingness to relax the bar. It means that the French are uncompromising, and that’s not always a bad thing. Sure, it means that that petty fights are neverending, but it also means that quality remains in tact. It means that everything around us is kept beautiful for nothing but the sake of the aesthetic pleasure itself. It means that food is supposed to be delicious, savory, and savored.
Of course, this also means that the grammar, spelling, and dictation drills are numerous and tedious at times. This is accommodated by a singular method. Sure, there is a basic curriculum, but also there is a uniform way to write and underline the date in red or how to mark a line break in blue. Or how I write something on the board, they copy it down, and then bring it to me to be checked.
My personal memories of 3rd grade is faded, but I am sure that individual teachers had their own manner, their own pattern throughout the course of the day. But this isn’t just one teacher, its uniform across all the schools, across all of the departments of France.
Its amazing how people shape a language, and then language serves to shape the people.
Sometimes its the kids that give me the best ideas. They have an excellent concept of how they can best learn. The teachers, of course, also had a concept of how the kids can learn, but their concept is conscious. The kids are unaware that they know how to learn, because its the patterns of which they think. They’re busy using those patterns, not learning and studying them.
So, when a student asked me to conjugate the verb “to have,” a little lightbulb turned on. I can use these same patterns to teach English. I wrote on the blackboard the conjugation, with the 1st person/2nd person/3rd person singular on one side, and 1st person/2nd person/3rd person plural on the other, just like it is taught for most Latin languages. I asked the kids what they remarked, the differences between French and English, and they immediately were able to identify.
Of course, its not all fun and games. My three schools are ZEP schools, meaning that they are problem schools. There are plenty of kids who are hyperactive, act and cry out, and some that just refuse to learn. I’ve never had an experience with a real class, that was for me to control. It wouldn’t be easy in any language, but its especially difficult to control a class in your second language. Sometimes you’ll see a glimmer in one of these kids, they’ll be the only one that remembers last week’s lesson, but then next week it can be gone.