a tale of the wander years, and all the adventures that came my way.
what we call the beginning is often the end
and to make an end is to make a beginning...
we shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.
- t.s. eliot, 'four quartets'
Thursday, October 10, 2013
back to school
let’s talk about school a little bit, shall we?
first, the basics. the school where i’m working is called
cité scolaire girault de borneil. it’s a combination lycée (high school) and
collège (middle school) - the equivalent of grades 7-12 in the states, or ages
12-18. there are about 600 kids in the school, many of whom get bussed in from
neighboring villages/hamlets/bumps in the road. i’m still kind of unclear on
how many teachers there are… but i’d guestimate about 40. maybe. anyway, out of
those teachers, there are maybe 7 or 8 who teach foreign language, and i’m
working directly with 4 of them. the school building itself is pretty
complicated, with lots of corridors that branch out into random directions, and
some split-level action. thankfully, most of the english classes are in the
same hallway, so i don’t have to move around too much. there is a small library
and a nice, bright cafeteria, and a really big courtyard where the kids hang
out during breaks.
the class structure and schedule is mad confusing. kids are
separated into paths (focusing on literature, or science, etc), and then
grades, and then sections. so, for example, on monday afternoon and thursday
morning, i work with a class of 1ère ses
- essentially, they are in 11th grade, on a track that
focuses on sciences and economics. so… not too keen on the foreign language. but
i digress. so, there are different groups of kids, and they all circulate
around together during the day. each class is about 30 kids, and each class
period is 55 minutes long. so, that’s exhausting. these kids go to school from
8:15am to like 5:15 every day. imagine! and some of them have to travel into
town and then home again on the bus…so they end up pulling 12 hours a day for
my schedule is SIGNIFICANTLY less arduous….
like, criminally so. actually, let me break it down.
i have a 7 month job
contract (october 1 – april 30), during which i cannot be asked to work more than 12 hours a week (yes, twelve). i have four separate two-week-long breaks
(so, that’s 8 weeks of paid vacation) – and i’m getting paid preeeetty well, considering the amount of work i'm actually doing.
can all stop trying to punch me through the computer screen now. each week, i
don’t have work monday or tuesday mornings, wednesday afternoons, or fridays.
at all. so, that’s nice. my contract is for 12 hours a week – 9 with high
schoolers and 3 with middle schoolers. i think i’ll end up being at the school
for more than 12 hours a week out of sheer boredom - i’ve kind of offered to be a tutor whenever
i’m available (which is often) for one of the other teachers. i did that for an
hour today, and had a great time helping two younger boys with an english
worksheet. generally, though, my job entails helping the teacher of whatever
class i’m working with, in whatever capacity i can. at various points this
week, i’ve observed from the back of the room, been interrogated by classes,
offered up as a topic of conversation, served as a floating question-answerer,
led a video-viewing and discussion about environmental innovation, been taken
on a tour of the village, led a discussion about modern signapore, helped a prosecution
team prepare for a mock trial of edward snowden, and helped moniter an
independent research session in the media room. all within about 10 hours of
actual classroom time. so, versatility is the name of the game. i’m pretty sure
i’ll be doing something completely different every day. yay? i don’t always
love change, but i think being kept on my toes will be a good experience for
digression – during the edward snowden trial preparation, i
tried to explain –in french – the meaning of the saying “your rights end where
someone else’s begin.” talk about digging myself a hole...
anywho. as far as the kids go… there’s a wide spectrum. on a
whole, i think they’re more culturally well-behaved than american students.
they respect the system, and they go with it pretty much inherently. that said,
there are some things that are just universal, and teenagers are a great
example. i think that no matter where you go in the world, you will pretty much
find that 14 is an awkward stage of a human’s life, and that 17 year old boys
will always try to show off in front of their buddies (and more importantly, in
front of girls). i may not have any actual teaching credentials… in fact, my
only credential for this job is that i speak english. however, i am a human,
and was once (much to my chagrin) a teenage human. being such, i feel like i
know what to expect certain regards. the nice thing about being an authority
figure in a french school is that i can act like the french teachers do.. which
is much more sarcastic than i’ve ever seen an american teacher act. you can
honestly just get sassy with the kids, and it mostly works. i’m looking forward
to exploring that power in the coming weeks. i’ve already detected some
landmarks, as far as teaching goes: the first crush on me (super sweet 10th grader who never takes his eyes off me and always helps me move chairs back at
the end of the lesson), the trouble makers (mainly kids whose parents are
anglophone, therefore making them bilingual and total snots in class), and the
ones who feel like english is way out of their league (my favourites, in some
cases). i can’t wait to get to know these kids throughout the school year and,
hopefully, see how far they come!
the rest of the faculty are super nice – i’ve made friends
with several of the teachers/administration already, and it’s only been 2
weeks. i’m hoping that as the year goes on, i’ll start getting invited to
teacher-y things on the weekends, so i don’t sit in my apartment for 3 days
straight! we’ll see with time, i suppose. the year is young. :)
all in all, after a week of total ambiguity and then another
of only partial ambiguity, i think i might have an idea about how this school
year is going to be. i love that i’m in a place where i can recognize kids in
the hallways, and get an enthusiastic “hello!” from them, instead of some giant
school where no one really knows me. i’ve got a great feeling about this year!