Sunday, November 22, 2009

Another week gone as a teacher. Now that all the initial paperwork, observation and looming vacation is over, I have a solid seven-week stretch of time to get some real work done. Two weeks down. Another week or two, and I'll be really counting down the days. I can't say I hate my job. It's not hard, per se, and it's something new. I'm all for new experiences. It's just that some days, it can be challenging and very tiring. Despite their varied backgrounds, the kids are pretty good. Some could definitely use some learning disability testing, or at least some behavioral lessons. During recess breaks, I hear horror stories from teachers about kids that have hit them, bit them, or thrown a chair at them. (!) So far, nothing like that in my classes. But behavior is just something that is definitely lacking in a lot of them, especially the boys. Chalk it up to cultures, I guess. A lot of the kids have abusive fathers, absent fathers, or just not enough's a real problem that seems to repeat itself in future generations.

As far as the English lessons, though, they're going okay. I have this time to make some real progress, and I've been trying, but some classes are just better than others. In some classes, it's just a good group of kids that don't fight, and are really receptive to learning English. In others, it's a really strict teacher that knows how to handle them. But there are a few of my classes that are just plain disrespectful and annoying. Let me tell you, it gets old saying "BE QUIET!" over and over. One class of 5th graders I have are way behind the class right next door to them--they both started off at the same level--solely because I spend half the period telling them to be quiet, listen, and threatening them with non-existent tests. As a tip from another assistant, I might just make the troublemakers sit alone at a desk and copy pages from an English book. Something really English-y, say, Charlotte Brontë or Charles Dickens. It's a classic French school punishment, making kids faire des copies. They all know The Simpsons, (I get asked at least once a week if Springfield is a real city..which I have to respond, yes, there's more than one!) so maybe I'll go all Bart Simpson on their ass and make them write "I will not talk when my teacher is talking" 20 times. For the really bad ones, "I most certainly will not ever again think of speaking while my instructor is teaching us invaluable English lessons that will serve us in our future studies and careers." 100 times.

My day-to-day life as an temporary Parisian has become pretty familiar. My morning routine is hauntingly precise. Up by 6:20, quick breakfast, check my bank account (crossing my fingers), get ready, out the door by 7:00 on the dot. Followed by a hurried 6-minute jaunt to the metro stop. Catch 7:06/7:07 train to train station. Arrive there at 7:21/22. Run to commuter train that leaves at 7:25. Get to suburb around 7:50, run to the 7:55 bus to take to my school, arrive at my school around 8:15. Repeat the next day.

I feel like I've adapted pretty well to living (again) in Paris. I frequent the libraries like a pro, take the metro and buses to every corner of the city, and know that the supermarket closest to me closes officially at 8pm but locks its doors at 7:50. Sometimes, while on one of my many public transport trips, I'll scare myself because I'll know what stop I'm at without opening my eyes. I'll recognize where I am just by which side of the train the doors open on or by how many times the train has stopped since I've gotten on. Bad, huh!

The thing is, though, I like blending in. I like being a part of the city, breathing it in and watching life go by as a million other people follow their own morning routines. I love that, with unfailing consistency, the same beggar woman who always sits in front of the bakery will be there on my way home, or that the fruit shop will call out the day's specials as I walk by, or that in my building, where I don't know anyone, everyone will still say "bonjour," to me, because we live in the same building. (Note of culture: you would not say "bonjour" to someone randomly on the streets. Since we cross paths in the building, it's common courtesy to say hello.)

So even when I'm pissed, with no money, and it's raining, and I'm dreading having to get up at 6am the next morning, and I haven't started my lesson plans...I look out my window, see the Eiffel Tower, and remember why I'm here. Because I love this city. If teaching kids English during the day and watching kids after school makes it possible for me to live here, then that's what it takes. Paris wins.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's clementine season and I can't get enough of them. Perfectly portable, delicious, and cheap. Cheap being the important part. Still waiting on that paycheck, but at this point it's like a far-off dream. Going to the grocery store is a combination of arithmetic and exercise--adding up my expenses and walking back and forth to take back things I can live without. Bare minimums is the name of the game. I hate it. To make matters worse, a lot of other assistants in my region have now been paid. Why not me? Who knows. My guess is it's a lotto that the Ministry of Education plays and apparently I did not win the first round. Frustrating to say the least.

School's been going okay. Somedays, I feel like I've made hardly any progress at all with the kids. They can be rowdy, disrespectful, and annoying. But other days, I'll ask a question, and I'll get a genuine response--in English--and I feel like I'm doing my job, or that at least I've kept their attention long enough to tell me I like tennis. They're mostly good kids, excited to learn English. It's just always those few little troublemakers that make class hard for everyone else.

In my free time, I've been catching up on TV series online (The Office is my fave), watching (and desperately trying to understand) DW-TV (German news channel), and reading Julia Child's book, My Life in France. And of course, taking pictures on my strolls around the city.
Found this little gem while trekking through southern Paris. A giant hanging out of an elementary school. There was a sign next to it that said the school spent a year making it and eventually assembling it out the window.
I love that even though it's 2009, the city still has parts of it that haven't changed in a long, long time. It gives Paris that authentic charm that I love.
I ran into a brocante, a sort of rubbish sale in the street. There's everything--fabulous art deco furniture, light fixtures, old magazines, mannequins..
The French love to make up their own English words, like le fooding, roughly translated as cuisine. Also, just for fun, note the spread-eagle woman, upper left. In public. Welcome to France!
Beautiful architecture.
Gotta go make some lesson plans, ahh the life of an English assistant!
More pictures can be seen here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

decisions, decisions

So my blogging mojo has been's week 6 of teaching in France and as of yet, no pay. As an American, I know that it is so typical of me to bring up money..but really, France? Eating cereal is getting kind of old. Supposedly, we should be receiving something next week..but my faith in their word ran out a long time ago. I'll believe it when my account isn't -2.65€ anymore. The worst part is that we just had vacation and I couldn't go anywhere! Consequently, a large portion of time was spent surfing the Internet and sleeping. Really, the only productive thing I did was research grad schools in Paris and a few in the States. I've decided that I would really like a Master's degree, and I need to do it next fall or I won't do it at all. Plus, in France, if you're older than 28, you aren't eligible for student health insurance. If I start next fall, I should finish right around when I turn 27 (scary).

However, going to graduate school in France presents me with some hard questions. Do I plan on staying in France? France has a funny little loophole for French citizenship. Two years in the country and a degree from one of their universities, and you're eligible to be a French citizen. However, I'm sure they expect you to integrate into French society, and all the paperwork to actually get citizenship would take at least a year. I don't know if I want to live or work here long-term. So here I am, in 2009, debating on whether or not I'll still want to be living here in 2013 or 2014. But there are obvious advantages to getting my education here:
-It's (nearly) free. About 600-1000€ for the year, including health insurance.
-The degrees are much more tailored to what I want to do (combining journalism/communication and languages)
-The proximity to other countries and their languages
-Mandatory internship abroad
-Staying in Paris
-My assistantship is renewable, so I could have an income while going to school (it'd be a lot of work, but many do it)
-The university I'm most interested in is in the same department I work in
-I'm already here, so registering is much easier
-No GRE required; admission process much easier

-Living in Paris is expensive
-Most likely can't get student loans to help out with costs (there are ones out there for US citizens abroad..but the schools I'm looking at aren't on their approved lists)
-It's a big time commitment (at least 2 1/2, 3 years)
-Far from home

After nine months of being an assistant, I don't know if I'll want to do it again. University registration is months away, but I really like having a rough idea of what I'm going to do so I can plan accordingly. If I choose to go back to the States, there are some disadvantages:
-The cost (varies, but at least $10,000 a year..probably more)
-I haven't taken the GRE yet and the next testing date in Paris is in February..and a lot of schools' apps are due at the end of 2009
-I haven't really found any program yet that I feel fits me
-I have absolutely NO IDEA where I would want to go. East coast? West coast? Florida?Texas? Midwest (meh..)?

Anyway, I know this isn't that interesting. Really helps me more than anything to write it out. All I know is I'd really like to continue my education, and if it comes down to cost (I am poor), staying in Paris would be the more practical choice. And I love Paris. But a year or two from now, I might really miss home and want to come back.

One thing I did do during break was see this guy (below) that I went to high school with play in a band here in Paris. Kind of weird to see someone I knew from my 'lil town in Iowa in Paris, France. Some photos from the show (called FOLK OFF!):

The view from the family's terrace