Monday, November 18, 2013

meeting in the middle

this week at school was eye-opening on a professional and cultural level. i had the opportunity to just sit in the back and observe a little more than normal (as opposed to taking small groups into the media lab to lead discussions) and i also got to speak with several of my older students about their opinions and pre-existing understanding of the usa. so, in a multitude of ways, i got a first-hand look into several parts of what makes this country the way it is… something i would dearly love to understand.

i’ve always toyed with the idea of teaching – to put it very simply, i love knowing things, and i love sharing that knowledge with others. i’m generally a patient and encouraging person, and i try to nurture learners in whatever way they need. i even started college thinking i was going to get my master’s in education and be a high school teacher. it took about 4 weeks of my first education class before i realized that i didn’t want to go that route. too much administration in the schools and not enough kids enthusiastic about foreign languages these days made for a less-than-appealing career path. i tutored french all through college, however, and i really loved it. my passion for imparting knowledge and the joy i feel when something finally clicks with my student… that never went away. the thought of coming here to france to teach english seemed like a happy medium; i always thought i would teach french, but i was afraid the years of standardization and less-than-enthusiastic teenagers would drain me of my love for it. here, as an english assistant, i’m sort of on my home turf, even though i’m thousands of miles away. being a native anglophone levels the playing field, in a certain regard, because there is no doubt in these kids’ minds that they could benefit from my help. so far, i’ve enjoyed the teaching aspects of my job – the satisfaction of helping students understand something difficult hasn’t changed a bit, and i’m learning a lot about teaching a foreign language (even if it isn’t foreign to me). for example, sometimes, when you ask what you expect is a very simple question, it might take the class 15 minutes to arrive at the answer – some of the subconscious connections you make in your mind just aren’t natural outside of your mother tongue. i certainly feel that way in french a lot of the time! while it can be frustrating to be patient and let the kids arrive there on their own, the final result is all the more exhilarating.

today, i got to have several short one-on-one discussions with some of the “terminale” students, who are in their last year of high school. at the end of this year, when they take their enormously important final exams, they are supposed to be able to comfortably and coherently express themselves in english, on a multitude of topics. part of the evaluation involves a 5 minute presentation, followed by a 5 minute question-and-answer session, which can be incredibly daunting, even in one’s native language. in an effort to get the kids used to speaking, we do these interview sessions, speed-dating style. today’s questions all centered around the usa, which made it even more interesting for me! i got to ask the students questions such as, “what do you know about american history?” and “what do you think about american culture?” not surprisingly, all of their answers regarding american history were about the world wars, and they told me they thought americans were more friendly but more concerned with superficial things (and ate lots of macdonalds). in return, i was challenged with questions like “what do you think the usa will be like in 50 years?” and “what do you think the average american is like?” it was an exceptionally interesting afternoon for me, both in hearing their points of view and trying to critically examine and express my own.

anyway, remember how i said i was living in perpetual vacation? well, tomorrow after work, i’m heading to bordeaux so i can be there for a mandatory, visa-validating medical check-up on wednesday. aaand, since i wouldn’t be able to get back to excideuil until thursday afternoon (thanks, bus schedules), i asked off for wednesday and thursday… therefore granting me a 5.5 day weekend (i live in opposite land). i’m taking advantage of my long weekend to go visit some friends from the states up in gay paree. since bordeaux is a major city, it’s very well-served by the train system – just under 4 hours on a high-speed train to paris! i’ll get there late wednesday evening and leave eeearly monday morning, getting back in time for work at 2pm! :) blog about that to follow!

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