Hello all! I've been in Paris for nearly three weeks and I'm finally getting around to writing about it...
I'm just going to FAQ this thing!
So, what exactly am I doing?
I'm teaching English in two French primary schools in the suburbs. I'm essentially the teacher for 45 minutes--I take over the class and I make the lesson plans. I'll also be giving tests and/or quizzes. The teacher is supposed to stay in the class while I'm teaching because in the end, it is their class and they're responsible. I teach all grades from 2nd to 5th. I have slightly different plans for each grade, but basically, I'm trying to immerse them in as much English as possible for the small amount of time per week that I'm there.
What are the schools like?
Well, ahem. I work in a difficult neighborhood. I'm in the worst (so I've heard) department in the Parisian region. Most French schools follow a strict curriculum that is followed the same no matter where you are in France. These schools do follow it, but it is slightly easier, especially in French, because so many of the students are not native-French speakers. I was talking to one of the teachers today, and she said in her class of 21 students, 12 of the parents do not know how to read or write in French (many of them are Arab, so the script is entirely different). Some of them might just be illiterate, I'm not sure. Also, every single student in her class is at least bi, if not trilingual. Many of the kids only speak French at school, and go home to their parents who speak Arab, Turkish, Portuguese, or a variety of African languages. Also, a lot of the kids have traveled around from countries and have picked up languages along the way. It's impressive, really, because even though they struggle a little in French (although if the teacher hadn't told me, I would've never guessed..they speak French well and have no accent), they often know how to read in Arabic or another language.
Of course, the entire problem with the language thing is that the kids a) can't get much help from their parents and b) they learn languages, but not entirely, so they end up being semi-fluent in a few languages, but not entirely fluent in any of them. But..I have to give them props: French is not an easy language, especially written. They seem to do okay considering the circumstances.
What's different about the French schools?
A lot of things. Too many to list here, and I see more everyday. They have a 2-hour lunch. The cafeteria food is a three-course meal (we are in France). In the morning, kids line up and walk two-by-two up to their rooms, led by the teachers. Doors are ALWAYS locked after school starts and until the lunch break. And then they're locked after the parents come to get their kids (oh yeah, a lot of the kids go home for lunch). And then they're locked from 1:30-4:30 (end of school day). I have to get the principal to even let me out. There's no school on Wednesdays for primary schools. Middle and high schools have half days. (This is awesome for me because HELLO! DAY OFF MID-WEEK!)
Kids write in pen, and they have different colors for everything. They write in blue or black, underline in red, and correct in green. Their notes all look identical, and are very, very clean. Crumpled up paper is looked down on and students are scolded for not making their notes look exactly like the ones that the teacher writes on the board. (And oh, yes, the teacher has colored chalk to match the colors.) They learn cursive before they learn print letters. They use grid paper and they measure letters and numbers in with the squares. (I do not exactly know the formula for the squares..)
The teachers are MUCH more severe than in the US. They are not there to be your friend. One of the teachers explained to me that a lot of the kids don't get much dicipline at home, so I understand that part..but seriously, sometimes the teachers are really hard on them! You can't really critique it; it's a different culture and the French (parents, too) are notorious for being hard on their kids to mold them into good, obedient citizens. The kids really don't seem to bent out of shape about it--they're used to it. It's kind of expected, even by the parents, that the teachers will be hard on the kids. Corporal punishment is not allowed..but a small slap with a ruler on the head or hand doesn't really count..
I wrote down a few things that I heard this week from while observing:
Teacher: I'm not speaking one more word to you! If I were you, I would not say anything for the rest of the day! Don't open your mouth, is that clear?!
Student: I don't understand.
Teacher: Did I not say it in French? Did you understand? Is this a joke? Are you kidding me?!
Teacher: Come up here and just dare to say that to my face, because you're a liar! (Teacher made the kid go up to the desk and say whatever it was to the teacher.)
Teacher: Frankly, I want to cry this is so bad! This is not possible!
Ah, the French. Gotta love 'em.
But, for as many differences as there are, there are a lot of similarities, too. Kids will be kids. They have recess, they have cliques, and they have lots of energy. The teachers hang out in the teacher's lounge and they love to bitch about their jobs. Kids do and don't do their homework, teachers get annoyed, kids bicker..it's not that different. It's just France. I'm sure I'll have lots of good stories to share after this year!
Where are you living?
I live in a studio in the 15th arrondissement. Here:
I live on the west side, and it's about a 10-minute walk to the Eiffel tower (exciting!). I was really looking for a place on the East side of the city since my suburb is way to the East, but I'll take what I can get. I can see the Eiffel Tower light up through the trees out my window at night. Once the leaves fall off, I'll have a fantastic view of that giant monument.
I work for a family as a nanny after schools. I spent the first week I was here working for the my old family in Paris while the parents were on vacation, and in that week, I got lucky and found this family. I don't get paid, but they don't charge me for the apartment, so it's a fair trade. They used to rent it out for 950€/month, so for Paris, it's awesome that I essentially have free housing. I also have cable, internet, bedding, a washing machine, dishes, etc. etc. The last two tenants that lived here left more than enough stuff for me to use.
I watch two boys, aged 6 & 10. They're entirely French and speak hardly any English besides a few phrases like Hello, How are you, My name is, etc. Plus some colors, numbers, random things. The mother's brother is married to an American and lives stateside, so they are trying to get their boys used to the sounds of English so they can hopefully become fluent someday (and talk to their cousins? Who speak French?) I'm skeptical about all of this. As much as I really want them to learn English, the time we spend together is limited (about 3hrs a day, 4x/week), and even then, they have homework, friends that come over, tennis lessons, etc. I've been talking to them in English first and then French, but I constantly get Quoi? What does that mean?! I don't understand! It'll take time, but I'm hoping that at least by the end of the year, they'll understand more and be able to have simple conversations with me. And I hope they won't have a horrible French accent when speaking English!
The boys themselves are good, but it's just very different from the family I had before, who felt like an extension of my actual family. These boys are very reserved, serious, and well, French. Today, I was in the elevator with the little one, and I jumped ONCE (don't tell me you didn't do that when you were little!), thinking he'd be like yayyyy let's have fun! NO, NO, NO! He almost had a heart attack and scolded ME! We don't do that! It's not allowed! It will break the elevator! I tried to explain to him that, um, the elevators hold 8 people and really, we aren't going to die..but no. NO POINT. They need to be little kids, not mini adults!
I have off weekends (save a babysitting or two per month) and most Wednesdays. It's not hard work, and even though I'm tired by 4:30 from being up since 6, it's worth it because rent in Paris is RIDICULOUS!
Anyway, I'm going to end this now. I have much more to talk about, including people I've met, observations of Parisian life, and my new addiction to soup and tea, but alas, another day. I'll put up pics of the apartment tomorrow (after I clean it!). It's tiny but I finally have a place to call my own!