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 school. meh.

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. 
you 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 me.

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!

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