Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Day in the Life of an English Assistant

So, I just had a really good day, so I thought I’d relive it by describing it, which will also give you an idea of my typical day. Well, kind of typical. I only teach on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, so this is a typical day 3/7 of the time (well, usually I’m slightly better-prepared):

I wake up at 6:15 (Thursdays are my earliest day), get dressed, eat breakfast (yum Weetabix and yogurt yum) and head to the school, a 7-minute walk away. It’s raining cats and dogs, it’s cold, I’m sleepy, and I have no idea if the activities I’ve prepared for today are going to work, because I thought of both of them the night before… So I'm a little worried. I head to the réprographie (photocopier room) to print out the activities and make copies. Just as I’m finishing, the bell rings for my 8:00 class and I have to race through the rain, into a building, up 50 steps, back into the rain, and into another building, fighting crowds of students who stop the entire flow of traffic to do the cheek kissy thing. Oh, the French. Finally I get to the classroom, where I take half the class up more stairs to the little room I’m allowed to use. I’ve prepared a role play about planning a vacation to South Africa, so I explain it to them (all in English) and most of them seem to get it. It goes pretty well with this half, so I begin to feel better about it. Then I take them back down to the room and pick up the other half, who are much weaker. It takes almost twice as long to explain what they have to do, and even then I have to ask one of the better ones to explain in French to the others (which is my way of avoiding speaking French myself). But everyone eventually gets it, and two girls in particular are really getting into it, so I ask them to perform it in front of the class. They do it really well, amid giggles, and everyone gives them a round of applause at the end. I teach them how to say “Yay!” or “Hurrah!” instead of “Ouais!” which they seem to like. Then I go back to the staff room to touch base with the teacher and tell her how it all went. She’s pleased because when she got the group back from me, they were already excited about English and really thinking in English, so my mood is rapidly improving.

Then it’s back to the réprographie to make copies of the superlative pages of my yearbook for my next class, at 10:00. This is the Seconde 10, the class that brought you teenagers’ testes. I haven’t ever had them as a group yet, so I have no idea what they’re like. I get half the class for the whole hour – I’ll do the same activity with the other half next week. I troop downstairs with them to an empty room, they all file in and sit down, and I ask them to say their names (even though I haven’t a hope of remembering them, except maybe Julien). I do a mini-presentation about American high schools (all they know about them comes from High School Musical, so they have a lot to learn) and then tell them about yearbooks and superlatives. I pass around my yearbook so they can see the baby pictures of all the seniors and the senior pages, which is fascinating for them – French high schools don’t do yearbooks. Then I give them copies of the superlative pages and they are absolutely enthralled. After a bit, I do some superlative grammar, and we talk about the superlatives – “What does ‘tardy’ mean? and ‘gullible’?” “You were most studious?” and laugh about them. I also have to explain what “truest Vermonter” means, which is hard, because “hick” is not a word that transcends cultures. Then I ask them to come up with superlatives of their own, and they think of some pretty good ones – sexiest, truest Norman, most likely to be a movie star, best-looking, etc. I’m actually disappointed when the bell rings, because I’m having fun. This class has become one of my favorites – there’s a really nice vibe between them and me where they quiet down and pay attention when I ask them to, but there’s room for some playfulness and gentle teasing (like when I told them I was in Scholars’ Bowl in high school… Have you ever had 11 French teenagers laughing at you? It’s an experience, let me tell you.) And even when they’re joking around, they’ll often try to do it in English, so I let them – for one thing, it’s funny, and for another, every word that they say in English is a little victory. A lot of them also understand my little sarcastic asides, so they laugh and it makes me happy.

Then back again to the réprographie, where I photocopy my little Thanksgiving blurbs for my next class and chat with Martine, who takes care of all the photocopy/transparency/equipment stuff and who is really nice. Then off to lunch in the cafeteria with the English teachers, which is always fun because it’s a whole table of language nerds and they like to ask me how to say things in American (I am the only American in the entire school, so I’m the ultimate authority – bwa ha ha ha ha). As I’m cleaning off my tray, Bertrand asks if I’d like to have a drink with him tomorrow night to help him with his English, which of course I would, so he invites me to his flat.

Up more stairs, to a class that I only see every other week, which is why I’m doing the Thanksgiving thing a week after the actual holiday. Apparently they were disappointed last week to not see me, so they’re looking forward to me today, which is always nice to hear. I ask them what they know about Thanksgiving, which always brings forth shouts of “dinde! turkey!” and I tell them that turkeys say “gobble gobble gobble” in English, which always gets a laugh. Then we do my Thanksgiving activity, which finishes with presentations by the students on the little blurbs I’ve prepared (Pilgrims, the first Thanksgiving, football, presidential turkey pardon, etc). I show the students how to draw a hand turkey, and one of them does so and shows it in his presentation, which is surprisingly touching. The last presentation is the turkey pardon, which is always hilarious, especially since I found a picture where Bush and the turkey have the same expression. This class is also nice – they’re up for anything and have good attitudes for the most part.

Back down to the staff room – by this time, the skies are actually blue, there are white fluffy clouds, and it’s much warmer out. I plan next week with a few teachers and relax for a bit. Then I have one-on-one work with older students to help them prepare for the big scary test at the end of high school – I have different students every week. One has an amazingly good British accent – a little on the Cockney side (I fink, etc) but very natural, so afterwards I ask him why and it turns out his parents are both English. So we chat for a bit, and I curse the fact that dating students is frowned upon, because he’s really cute.

Then I go back home, have a snack, and read one of my French books (they’re meant for teenagers, but I’ve spent the last four years reading classic French literature and I think I deserve a break) before going to the gym for a “barre sculpt” class, which is weights and such. It’s a good 20-minute walk to the gym, but that’s why Ipods were invented. Also it’s more exercise, which is good because France doesn’t really believe in low-fat food. After the class, I depart, muscles shaky but feeling good, and come back home, where I have another snack and write this blog post.

So that’s a Thursday – Mondays are much the same, Tuesdays I only have two or three classes in the morning and chorale at night, Wednesdays I go to the teacher-training college for conversation groups with student teachers (half in French, half in English so everyone gets to practice), Fridays I stay in bed until an embarrassingly late hour, Saturdays I do museums or shopping or walks, and Sundays I go to the market in the morning and the internet café in the afternoon. Life is good.

1 comment:

  1. OMG - you admitted the "Schiolars Bowl" thing? Just don't tell them about me, all I need is a bunch of French teenagers asking me trivia questions...
    Hey, have you thought about starting a "coupe savante" tournament? I could ship you my French "poursuite triviale" set...
    Happy holidays - give me a buzz if you're home for a while...